Baltimore School for the Arts youth program to receive $1 million

The Baltimore School for the Arts' endowment will receive a $1 million donation that will help sustain a youth program that has exposed city students to the arts for nearly 30 years.

On Friday, city schools CEO Andrés Alonso will announce the gift from longtime school leaders Patricia and Mark Joseph to the school's TWIGS program, which since 1982 has fostered city students' visual and performing arts talents and prepared many underserved students to enroll in the prestigious arts high school.

The gift will spur an effort to establish a $10 million endowment for the program. The announcement of the Joseph Fund for the Future will be presented during a special event at the school on Friday night, which will mark the retirement of Leslie Shepard, the longtime head of the school.

The TWIGS (To Work In Gaining Skills) program has provided free after-school and Saturday arts instruction for children in second through eighth grade, serving about 700 children annually from 140 elementary and middle schools. More than 5,000 city children have attended performances and gallery tours with their families through the program.

In an interview from London this week, Mark Joseph said the donation is aimed at the undiscovered talent of city students who otherwise wouldn't have an opportunity to train in the arts.

"I just believe that through TWIGS, we could be reaching more children who otherwise wouldn't have this opportunity — and that's really what we're after," Joseph said.

He also said that as public and private funding dwindles, he wants the program not only sustained but allowed to grow. Patricia Joseph serves on the school's board of overseers, and Mark Joseph helped start the school in 1979. The Josephs made the first $1 million gift to the school in 2003.

"There's less and less money, and there's kids who need more and more money," he said. "We just wanted to make sure that what we thought was great about the school continued."

Joseph said that expanding the program would also strengthen the pool for the School for the Arts. Each year between 30 percent to 35 percent of the school's incoming ninth-graders have been trained through TWIGS. All students, however, have to compete for a spot at the school.

Sheila Outlen, the mother of three TWIGS students, said she believes the program helped her sons, who began attending the program in fifth grade, to graduate from the School for the Arts.

"They were told they would not automatically get in, they would have to compete," Outlen said. "And TWIGS definitely helped them compete against all of the others wanting to get in there."

More importantly, she said, the program fostered a love for the arts that she had when she was younger.

"I always wanted to be a ballerina, and I loved the arts," Outlen said. "Obviously that didn't happen. So I always wanted to make sure that my kids loved it, too."

Her son Thomas was a 2009 School for the Arts graduate who studied saxophone under Chris Ford, former music director of the school who will replace Shepard. Outlen's son is now studying music education at Pennsylvania State University.

"I was very proud of him because when you graduate with an arts degree, you just have an edge," she said.

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