SMARTS Transition Announcement

SMARTS Press Release
May 20, 2014/Jewish Community Center/3:30 pm
For Immediate Release
Contact: Becky Keck, SMARTS Executive Director, 330-507-0688

There was a public announcement today of SMARTS—Students Motivated by the Arts transition into our region’s only Community Art School. Since 1997, SMARTS─Students Motivated by the Arts program at Youngstown State University has provided quality arts education to thousands of K-12 students from throughout the Mahoning Valley. SMARTS is the only stand-alone Community Art School in our region where classes in visual arts, music, dance, theater and creative writing will be offered. This transition has taken place because our community has expressed the need to continue SMARTS 16-year legacy of quality art education. SMARTS relevance is greater than ever before due to school districts budget cuts and the lack of arts education at all levels in our schools.

See the German Marshall Fund blog at

In the past 16 years, SMARTS has provided classes to thousands of PK-12 students from throughout our community and hundreds of YSU students have had the opportunity to teach, mentor, and volunteer at SMARTS. In the fall of 2012-13, SMARTS worked with over 50 YSU students a week acting as a living/learning laboratory. SMARTS programming was 6 days/32 hours a week and served 325 PK-12 students a week. Over 70% of those SMARTS student’s families were at the low to moderate income level based on HUD standards (the Department of Housing and Urban Development). Interestingly enough at the same time, 70% of YSU students were on financial aid.

SMARTS has received many awards and distinctions including a National Endowment for the Arts 2006 grant award, the regional and statewide Ohio Art Education Association Distinguished Organization for Art Education in 2008 and has been nominated three times for a Governor’s Award in the Arts for Art Education. In March 2011, SMARTS was named as one of the top 50 art afterschool programs in the country from the President’s Committee for Arts and Humanities Coming Up Taller award for the second time (the first time was in 2006). In spring 2013, SMARTS received the Akron Children’s Hospital Mahoning Valley Children’s Advocate Award. The purpose of this award is to recognize individuals and organizations throughout the Mahoning Valley who exhibit the spirit of caring and who are working to make a difference in the lives of the children of the communities they serve.

This video was created spring 2013 to show SMARTS in action as part of its 15th birthday celebration. It can be seen online at and is a clear representation of the quality art education programming that SMARTS has provided our community for over 16 years.

Currently, the Fine Arts Council of Trumbull County (FACT) is acting as SMARTS fiscal agent to give foundations and individuals the opportunity to financially support the SMARTS transition. FACT has a long history of nurturing artists and art and culture organizations until they receive non-profit status. SMARTS is currently able to accept cash and gift-in-kind donations through FACT, giving the donor the appropriate tax credits with no administrative fees.

Ron Faniro of the SMARTS Circle (Advisory Group) acted as Emcee today and introduced these members; Dan DeSalvo, Bob Bindas, Lisa Robinson, Christine Rhoades, Joy White, and Angela McCoy. These dedicated individuals, supporters and visionaries bring a variety of strengths to build this new organization under SMARTS Executive Director and one of its original founders, Becky Keck. They are continuing negotiations with Youngstown State University for the physical and cash assets left behind.

The seven member SMARTS Circle (Advisory Board) has been exploring the facility, partnership, programming, and future revenue producing opportunities and are currently looking at options for SMARTS new home. The Circle is creating SMARTS new organizational structure and working through the process to apply for SMARTS own 501 (c)(3) with the help of The Legal Creative. A business plan is currently underway and whether or not there is a permanent site by this fall, SMARTS will be programming in some capacity.

With the generosity of this community, SMARTS has raised over $18,000 in cash since the start of this transition and over $51,000 in gift-in-kind donations. There has been a huge outpouring of support from many individuals and businesses to include the following; the Ohio One Corporation, The Legal Creative, Compco Industries, Ad Dimension, and Jet Creative Productions. Erma Mahadeviah was acknowledged as she made the first cash donation to the SMARTS Transition—having faith in the very early beginning of the transition that SMARTS would be successful in starting this new organization and generously giving her support and encouragement. There have been many other individuals too numerous to mention who have given their time and talents to the SMARTS transition—without their encouragement and support, this would not be possible.

Becky Keck, SMARTS Executive Director, “SMARTS is honored to hold this public announcement at the Youngstown Area Jewish Federation in honor of the Thomases Family Endowment—the first foundation to commit to SMARTS transition to the community. We want to express our thanks to the Thomases Family Endowment Distribution Committee members and Debbi Grinstein, Endowment Director, for their insight into the needs of our community and their willingness to step forward. They have sparked the SMARTS transition into the community.”

Speakers today included; T. Sharon Woodberry, the City of Youngstown’s Economic Development Director; Patrick Kale, SMARTS student and 8th grader at Boardman Center Middle School, and Chris Lettera, he received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in English Literature from YSU, where he has since taught courses in composition, poetry, mythology, and economics. He’s a longtime SMARTS teacher and a great advocate for literacy in our youth.

Bill Rusu of Jet Creative Productions rolled out the new SMARTS Logo, website available at, and FB page with Sarra Mohn’s help. Sarra is a friend and supporter of SMARTS who worked with JET Creative Productions to bring the program’s vision to fruition. The logo was created with the help of the SMARTS Branding Committee which included local artist Chris Yambar, several volunteers, and three SMARTS students. If you look closely, the artwork drawn by this group is creatively nestled in the grey background. To reveal the new logo, various participants and SMARTS stakeholders were wearing t-shirts hidden and unveiled during today’s presentation. The t-shirts with the new logo on the front were supplied by Ad Dimension, a local ad specialty business.

Check out the new SMARTS website at where you can make a donation, volunteer, or sign up for future SMARTS classes. The success of SMARTS Transition will rely on community support.

So what makes SMARTS so important in our community? The National Guild for Arts Education states that, “Community arts education is important, relevant, and necessary as research shows that high-quality instruction in the arts has many benefits for individuals and communities. When these programs are sustained and respond to community needs, they encourage cognitive development, increase creativity, improve self-esteem, and promote better health. Community arts education programs also build social capital, foster democratic decision making, advance economic growth, and generate a sense of shared culture and community belonging. They can add to or enrich K-12 education and serve as catalyst, convener, and conduit for innovative and collaborative community-wide and cross-sector alliances. When well-coordinated, these alliances can leverage vital resources for arts education, create networks of support, and ensure that the arts learning needs and interests of all Americans–including young children, older adults, ESL students, learning-disabled students, and many others–are adequately addressed.” For more information see

SMARTS is YOUR community art school. Be a part of it!