Smile For the Arts: Arts Council Brazos Valley & Behind the Lens of the Arts Issue

Music as Art: Sunday Jazz Jam & Grand Stafford Theater
August 31, 2012
Publisher’s Desk: Double issue double take
September 1, 2012

Arts Council staff Logan Faron, Brittany Watson, Eleanor Ryder, Chris Dyer and Rachel Lowenstein.Stories by Angelique Gammon / Photos by Crystal Littrell & JP Beato III

Arts Council of the Brazos Valley

If you don’t think of access to the arts as a strategic economic policy, there are tangible reasons to reconsider. Just ask Chris Dyer, executive director of the Arts Council of Brazos Valley since April 2010. Value the arts for its fulfilling and life-affirming nature? Absolutely, says Dyer, but beyond the yadda, yadda, yadda happy-making ideals, he’d prefer to see any conversation about the importance of the arts focus on accountability. 

“We’ve moved to an assistance role, not just providing funding, to help member organizations market and get their names out,” says Dyer, “and to provide services for underserved segments of the community.”

A big part of the shift has been providing services for schools. “In the short term, we are focusing on our three core programs: Art for Life, for incarcerated and youth on probation with the goal of keeping them out of jail; Reflections of the Special Olympics, providing artistic opportunity for special needs adults and children; and arts for children, both in-house and in school.

“Art absolutely makes a difference in school performance,” says Dyer. “We’ve all heard the studies that show art makes more creative, outside-of-box thinkers.”

As for accountability, Dyer can now point to some seven years of hard data on the success of the Arts for Life program.

Arts Council staff Logan Faron, Brittany Watson, Eleanor Ryder, Chris Dyer and Rachel Lowenstein.Stories by Angelique Gammon / Photos by Crystal Littrell & JP Beato III

Arts Council of the Brazos Valley

If you don’t think of access to the arts as a strategic economic policy, there are tangible reasons to reconsider. Just ask Chris Dyer, executive director of the Arts Council of Brazos Valley since April 2010. Value the arts for its fulfilling and life-affirming nature? Absolutely, says Dyer, but beyond the yadda, yadda, yadda happy-making ideals, he’d prefer to see any conversation about the importance of the arts focus on accountability. 

“We’ve moved to an assistance role, not just providing funding, to help member organizations market and get their names out,” says Dyer, “and to provide services for underserved segments of the community.”

A big part of the shift has been providing services for schools. “In the short term, we are focusing on our three core programs: Art for Life, for incarcerated and youth on probation with the goal of keeping them out of jail; Reflections of the Special Olympics, providing artistic opportunity for special needs adults and children; and arts for children, both in-house and in school.

“Art absolutely makes a difference in school performance,” says Dyer. “We’ve all heard the studies that show art makes more creative, outside-of-box thinkers.”

As for accountability, Dyer can now point to some seven years of hard data on the success of the Arts for Life program. “Right now, it is critical to demonstrate success of programs. We know if you catch youth offenders early and involve them in art and skills like Photoshop you give them valuable skills they can ultimately apply in life.

“Check back three years, track the kids, and see what our statistics are,” says Dyer. “Recidivism rates in Texas are horrible. Our program was about 30 percent better for the 70-80 kids [in Art for Life]. We have 25-30 new kids this year. If we keep kids from gong back into the legal system, where the average stay is 120 days at a cost of $14,000 to $18,000 per individual, that is cost effective.

“When I came in, I wanted to see results and accountability.” 

Dyer got both those things this spring when the mural created by students in Art for Life was unveiled at the Bryan Library. “It’s incredible what these kids can do, the creativity of the individual. This summer program is successful because kids out of school, often with no guidance, get probation credit. They also volunteer time because they enjoy this so much; they want to talk so much,” he says. “It’s tough.”

“Art is for kids who need a push in the right direction,” says Dyer, one of those happy-making, life-affirming benefits. It’s also reason to smile.

Crystal Littrell, Crystal Littrell Photography & JP Beato III, JP Beato III Photography

Smile for the Artists

For the premiere Art979 issue of Insite Magazine, Crystal Littrell and JP Beato III hung out with local artists. While they both have taken their fair share of portraits – athletes, brides, coaches and babies – they jumped at the opportunity to have fellow “creatives” on the other side of the lens.

“It was very inspiring to hang out with other local art professionals,” says Littrell. “We learned a thing or two about how to use other types of mediums for self expression.”

The couple’s philosophy of photography is premised on the idea you should get an instant sense of a subject from the way they are presented in a photo. “We know we have about three seconds for you to see, comprehend, and have an emotional response,” says Littrell. “In a technologically savvy world of Facebook, Instagrams and TwitPics, sometimes the process is a challenge.”

Littrell describes hers as a more organic approach with clients, using familiar surroundings and natural light. JP’s documentary photojournalism background often creates sets that can be technically complex, stylized and fashion forward.   

Together they created an issue of eye-arresting images that expanded viewers’ awareness of how life’s art surrounds us. ­