by Sue Ann Rybak
Opera prodigy and America’s Got Talent semi-finalist Arielle Baril, 14, helped launch Mt. Airy Arts Garage’s (MAAG) Community of Pride Mural and Literacy Project at Emlen Elementary School, 6501 Chew Ave. in East Mt. Airy on Tuesday, Sept. 26. Baril, who was a finalist in this year’s New York Lyric Opera National Competition, shared her story and encouraged students not to limit themselves to “one genre of music because that is what they are familiar with.
“As a bi-racial, half-Haitian, half-Jewish girl, I want to let kids know they are able to join this genre (opera), even though it is a predominantly white genre,” said the Drexel Hill resident, a voice student of Dr. Barbara Di Toro, associate director of Temple University’s Music Prep program. “I would like to stick with opera.”
However, Baril, who was on America’s Got Talent at age 11 in 2015, said she is not sure if she wants to pursue a career as an opera singer. “Right now, I am just 14 and am looking at all my options. As of right now, I would like to be a broadcast journalist. Opera is more of a really good hobby. It’s so stressful at the end of the day.”
Arlene Olshan, lead teacher, COP Mural and Literacy Project, and co-founder of MAAG, said the goal of the project is “to continue empowering children with community awareness and commitment while teaching art techniques, literacy, skill building, art history and confidence. As an arts organization in our Northwest community, we feel it is so critical to give the children a sense of hope and place using creativity as that vehicle. They’re exploring pride through their drawings; what they feel matters; their vision matters. They are leaving a permanent, undeniable mark on their school with a mural that will be there forever.”
Olshan said the project would not be possible without the help of the community and local businesses, especially East Mt. Airy Neighbors, which gave MAAG a $10,000 grant.
Elayne Bender, executive director of East Mt. Airy Neighbors (EMAN), said successful public schools make “Mt. Airy a stronger, more stable community and a more desirable place to live. Unfortunately, funding is always an issue for our school district, and valuable programs are cut. EMAN believes that arts are not a ‘frill’ but an integral part of helping young people to express themselves creatively and productively.”
Denise Veronick, Emlen lead teacher, said teachers didn’t select last year’s mural project participants based on students’ grades or attendance. “We chose the ones who would be impacted the most,” she said. “I learned many important lessons. Everyone is an artist in their own way; everyone loves it when another appreciates their work, and these kids reaped the benefits of putting themselves out there. The group couldn’t have been more diverse, but with our common goal in mind and our various abilities on display we created a beautiful and meaningful mural. They learned to work with people who are very different from them. We shared a mutual respect for our differences.”
Linda Slodki, MAAG president and co-founder, shared how the project impacted one student who came to Emlen as a fourth grader in the autistic support class. She said he was quiet and rarely spoke. “Toussaint was chosen because of his artistic ability,” she said. “He put all he had into his drawings, using every bit of space on the paper and using color like a pro. His confidence grew, and he made friends with a few students finding shared interests. His confidence grew in the classroom, too, volunteering to read tough words on the blackboard. He became willing to put himself out there because he trusted the group to not make fun of him.”
If you would like to make a donation or learn more information about MAAG’s Community of Pride Mural and Literacy Project, contact Linda Slodki at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 267-240-2570.