“The arts can have a tremendous impact on the world around us,” said Camas piano teacher Sarah Lightfoot.
But, first, we may need to change our perception of who is — and who is not — an artist.
“Schools set up kids to think they’re the art kid, the brainy kid, the music kid, the athletic kid … and if you don’t choose art or music, you’re done, like music and art are only for professionals, but that’s not real life,” Lightfoot says. “There are ways for all of us to participate in the creative process without having to be professionals.”
Lightfoot founded a Camas-based nonprofit, Enspire Arts, in 2017, to help increase access to the arts and dispel any notion that making music, dancing, painting, writing or participating in the arts is reserved for a chosen few.
Enspire Arts offers tools for educators to better integrate music and art into their classrooms; an after-school art exploration program; and a $500 “Arts Ambassador” scholarship opportunity for local youth in grades 5 through 11 who are, according to the nonprofit’s online resources, “dedicated to improving their talents” and are willing to use their artistic abilities to contribute to their Clark County community during their year-long stint as an arts ambassador.
“We believe in the power of creativity to empower youth and enrich our communities,” Lightfoot says, quoting Enspire Arts’ mission statement, and “create vibrant and interactive arts experiences that promote well-being, learning and connection.”
Since its founding in 2017, Enspire Arts’ scholarship program has awarded $7,500 to 15 students from the Camas, Washougal, Vancouver and Evergreen school districts, and the students’ community projects have impacted more than 800 Clark County residents.
The 2022-23 arts ambassadors — Keilene Brown, Jacob Crabtree and Bianca Flores — are all Camas-Washougal students with a passion for music.
Brown, an eighth-grader in the Washougal School District, is studying voice and working on a project that will bring music to preschool students in Clark County, Lightfoot said.
“I’m so thankful to be a part of this community. It truly brings people together and creates lasting bonds to one another,” Brown said of the Enspire Arts arts ambassador scholarship program.
Crabtree, 15, is a freshman at Camas High School who moved to Camas from California 10 years ago with his parents, Karen and Scott, and two older brothers, Gabe and Nate.
“I’ve always enjoyed playing piano,” Crabtree said, “and now I have the opportunity to share my art with other people.”
Crabtree is using his scholarship money to continue his weekly piano lessons, and is planning to perform at assisted living and retirement facilities to give back to his community as an Enspire Arts ambassador.
Crabtree’s grandmother was his first piano teacher, and he enjoys taking bike rides in Camas with his grandparents and family, so performing for his elders at local retirement villages seemed like a natural fit for the young pianist.
His first solo performance at a retirement home will take place in March at Touchmark at Fairway Village in Vancouver.
“I thought that was a good location for me to share my art with the community,” Crabtree said.
First, though, Crabtree will join the other 2022-23 Enspire arts ambassadors, Brown and Flores, at Enspire’s Celebration and Benefit Concert, honoring the nonprofit’s fifth anniversary of the arts ambassador scholarship program.
The concert, set for 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 4, at Columbia Presbyterian Church, 805 Columbia Ridge Drive, Vancouver, will feature current and some former Enspire arts ambassadors, performing alongside professional musicians — including jazz pianist Clay Giberson, baritone Zachary Lenox, Latin jazz vocalist Jessie Marquez, Vancouver Symphony Orchestra Principal Horn Dan Partridge and other members of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.
“It’s a stellar lineup,” Lightfoot said, “and offers something for everyone.”
The concert, which is free — with donations encouraged and accepted at the door and online — is Enspire Arts’ first public fundraiser since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our last one was in 2019,” Lightfoot said of Enspire Arts’ public events. “Prior to that, we had a celebration gala, ‘Tango and Tapas,’ with a community tango dance lesson, in 2018, and we had a youth choir and jazz band perform in 2019.”
The Feb. 4 concert at Columbia Presbyterian Church will celebrate Enspire Arts’ fifth group of arts ambassador scholarship recipients.
“Last year, we had a very small, private event for our ambassadors … and, for our fifth year, we wanted to do something bigger, so I reached out to friends and colleagues and now we have a fantastic lineup with a variety of music,” Lightfoot said. “We are hoping people will donate. The . scholarship program has been entirely donor-funded so far.”
Flores, 17, a Camas native and a junior at Camas High School, is using her Enspire Arts scholarship to take vocal lessons and further her interest in electronic music production and. The singer-songwriter also plans to share her knowledge of music production with younger Camas students.
“I will be hosting workshops for middle-school (students) at Skyridge, which was my middle school, and at Liberty,” Flores said. “I’ll provide five or six basic lessons on music production and songwriting.”
Flores said she wishes she’d had more resources on songwriting and music production when she was that age.
“I found myself getting into music in early middle school, when I noticed that music was the one thing I truly enjoyed better than anything else in the world,” Flores said.
The Camas High junior — who lives in Camas with her mother, Tera Flores; grandmother, Sandy McCausland; and brother, Anthony Flores — sings with the Camas High School choir and said her choir teacher, Ethan Chesan, has helped her find opportunities to further her songwriting and music recording interests, including a chance to attend “Grammy Camp,” a weeklong Los Angeles-based summer music camp for teens who hope to pursue a music career after high school, and the Enspire Arts scholarship program.
Flores said she is considering attending the school of music at Brigham Young University (BYU) in Utah, after graduating from Camas High in 2024.
“I’ll have to see if my music can take me anywhere,” Flores, who has already released an album and several singles on major digital streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify under her stage name, “Rose Flores,” said she also is considering majoring in music education. “I may study teaching music (in a public school). That would also be fun.”
Flores, who will perform two of her original songs with her bandmate and fellow Camas High classmate, Benjamin Hromadka, at Enspire Arts’ Feb. 4 concert, said she enjoyed going through Enspire’s art ambassador scholarship application process.
“They asked why I love music and wanted a rough idea of what I wanted to do for my (community) project,” Flores said of the arts ambassador scholarship application process. “I’m always happy to talk about my passion and they really understood. And the interview process made me feel so warm – they want to know who you are as a person and why this art form matters so much to you.”
Former arts ambassadors, including Miss America’s Outstanding Teen, to perform at Feb. 4 concert
A few of Enspire Arts’ former arts ambassadors — including dancer Cassidy Watson and opera singer Morgan Greco, Miss America’s Outstanding Teen 2023, and Camas students Shalaka Deshpande, Shulammite Leu and Ava Wagner — will join the professional musicians and 2022-23 scholarship recipients at the Feb. 4, concert.
Watson, 20, who graduated from Camas High in 2020, and is currently working on earning her bachelor’s degree in business at Warner Pacific University in Portland, was an Enspire Arts’ ambassador and scholarship recipient during her junior year of high school, in 2018-19.
“As far as I know, I’m the only dancer (who has been an Espire arts ambassador),” Watson said. Watson used her Enspire Arts scholarship money to pay for summer classes at a dance academy in Washougal and taught the joy of dance to elementary school students during her time as an arts ambassador.
“Dance is a very comforting thing for me,” said Watson, who went on to dance with the Radiance Dance Company after high school. “I’ve been dancing since I was 9 years old, and it’s my go-to when I’m stressed or overwhelmed … Dance is my safe place. My happy place.”
Watson, who lives in Camas with her parents, Alexandra and Christopher Watson, older sister, Brienna, and the family’s 11-year-old dog, Ellie May, said she grew up “in a very artistic, creative family,” so she was used to seeing people express themselves artistically.
Watson has tried to keep up on Enspire Arts’ events and performances since her days as an arts ambassador, and was pleased when Lightfoot reached out to her to see if she had any interest in performing at the Feb. 4 benefit concert.
Not only did she agree to dance at the Feb. 4 event, but Watson also has plans to teach dance classes for Enspire Arts. Beginning in February, Watson will be working with the nonprofit Hough Foundation, teaching third- and fifth-graders in Vancouver wellness — as well as team-building, self-expression and creativity — through the art of dance.
“I love to instill that joy of dance … and to create an environment where the kids can feel free to be themselves,” Watson said. “I try to have the kids be a little involved with the choreography – to get their input by asking, ‘What would work here? What is the music telling you to do?’ — and I try to find music I think they’ll have fun with … usually something very upbeat.”
Another Enspire Arts alumnus, Morgan Greco, recently won the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen 2023 national title.
The 17-year-old Camas High School junior was an Espire arts ambassador in 2021, during her sophomore year. Greco used her Enspire Arts scholarship money to continue her opera singing lessons and, for her community project, shared her love of opera with other Camas youth.
“I started singing opera when I was 9 years old,” Greco said. “It’s such an obscure art form … but it’s perfect for me.”
In her outreach to local elementary school students, Greco talked about the origins of opera and how she became an opera singer.
“They were so excited and intrigued,” Greco said. “I was so honored to share my love of opera.”
Greco, who lives in Camas with her mother and stepfather, Rose and Rick Weithas (her father, Mark Greco, lives in Vancouver) and dogs, Winnie and Layla, is the youngest of eight siblings ages 17 to 36.
When she’s not traveling for the Miss America program, studying for her Camas High classes, or performing — Greco will sing two arias during the Feb. 4, Enspire Arts concert — the Camas High junior enjoys sewing and working on jigsaw puzzles.
“I’m a huge puzzle fanatic,” she said. “I get so hyperfocused. It’s just a relaxing thing for me to do.”
She also encourages people interested in promoting the arts to get involved as Enspire Arts volunteers.
“People should come to the concert and see what Enspire Arts is all about,” Greco said. “My mom has been so touched by what the organization has provided for me that she wants to be a volunteer.”
Lightfoot said the nonprofit needs volunteers.
“We’re still small and still recovering from COVID,” she said. “We have so many programs that we’d like to kick off … and we’re hoping that we’ll be able to hire someone soon, but we could always use more general volunteer support.”
Enspire Arts also is seeking volunteers who can help with fundraising and grant writing, and would love to grow its list of community mentors for student projects, Lightfoot said.
The nonprofit arts organization is working with Camas Community Education to offer various wellness- and art-inspired classes and programs.
In March, Enspire Arts will host a two-day expressive arts workshop for high-schoolers to help teach self-esteem, relaxation, emotional resilience and conflict-resolution skills. The new program will run from 1 to 5 p.m. March 5 and March 12, at the Joyce Garver Theater in Camas. The cost is $120 per student and partial scholarships are available to students in need. Online signup for the workshop is available through Camas Community Education at communityed.camas.wednet.edu.
Young people aren’t the only ones benefiting from Enspire Arts’ push to promote the arts to the entire community, Lightfoot said.
“We started a community arts evening series for adults and it has been so successful,” Lightfoot said. “This is an easy entry point for people interested in art.”
The donation-only evening events for ages 18 and older, which normally happen on a monthly basis at the Zion Lutheran Church in downtown Camas, offer introductions to various artforms.
The next 18-and-older community arts event is set for 7 to 9 p.m. April 20, at Zion Lutheran Church, 824 N.E. Fourth Ave., Camas. To sign up for the event, email Lightfoot at email@example.com.
For more information about the nonprofit’s scholarship program — the next round of applications opens March 1 and ends April 30 — visit enspirearts.org, or email Enspire Arts’ arts ambassador scholarship chairperson, Dina Lano, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information, visit enspirearts.org, facebook.com/EnspireArts or instagram.com/enspirearts.