2018-07-13 / Front Page

Midlands Arts Conservatory to open August 20

By Anita Baker


Shannon Hickey, Head of School Shannon Hickey, Head of School The Midlands Arts Conservatory (MAC)has been a dream in the making for several years. It is an arts immersion school for sixth and seventh grade students interested in a focused study of dance, music, theatre, or visual arts to their academic education in an arts immersion environment, Dr. Robert Jesselson, Carolina Distinguished Professor at the University of South Carolina School of Music, has worked for years to see this dream come to fruition.

Dr. Jesselson shares, “I feel this school is vitally important for Columbia— both Charleston and Greenville have similar schools that are very successful, and Columbia needs this. Our problem in Columbia has been because we are broken up into seven different school districts. No single district has enough students interested in pursuing dance, theatre, art, and music to warrant a focused arts- based school from middle to high school.

Since Greenville and Charleston are both single district counties, they each have enough children to have the Fine Arts Center (Greenville) and the School of the Arts (Charleston). And in addition, we lose talented Columbia students to the Governor’s School in Greenville, rather than keeping them here in this area. Columbia needs MAC, and we appreciate the support from the community to make this a reality.”

The MAC is founded as a part of the South Carolina Public Charter School District, which means it is considered a public school. Any student entering the sixth and seventh grades who want to enroll and study in one of the fine arts areas is eligible, as long as they are a South Carolina resident.

MAC accepts students into its fine arts program based on their interest in studying one of the fine arts areas. Skill and experience are not required.

Rosie Craig, a recognized leader in commercial development in Columbia including several important historic preservation project with Historic Columbia, has been instrumental in bringing about the opening of the MAC for the 2018-2019 school year.

She says she took on the role as chair of the planning committee in January 2018 because “there was so much potential… I love the arts— they stimulate economy. The arts create jobs, excitement, and improve the quality of life in our community. This is a chance to reach out to our younger generations for the future.”

Craig’s experience in commercial development was exactly what was needed to help the Conservatory overcome its last obstacle, finding a facility.

Another important step in opening MAC for the 2018- 2019 school year was finding the right principal or “ head of school.” Shannon Hickey from Savannah, Ga., has moved her family to Columbia this summer to assume leadership of the school. She has worked for 20 years as an educator, principal, senior school administrator, assistant principal, and fine arts department director, as well as a music teacher, band director, chorus director, classroom teacher, and athletic director in Georgia schools. Hickey says she has worked with young people from the age of two to 12th grade. However, middle school students are her favorite.

Hickey’s goal for the MAC is to “train students so they have the ability to enter the fine arts profession upon graduation.”

Eventually, The Conservatory will serve students through their middle school and high school years. The plan is to add an additional grade every year so they can retain their students while they expand their programs. Next year, eighth grade will be added.

Hickey says the student to-teacher ratio in classes will be no higher than 20- 1 in academic classes and lower in specialized arts classes. The school day will be split between a half day of academic work and a half day in specialized study in each student’s chosen arts discipline.

The fine arts areas offered at the school include dance, visual arts, music, and theatre. Hickey says the founding class of 2018-2019 and their particular fine arts interests will shape the school for future years.

Hickey explains the value of an arts immersion education. “To us, an arts infused education is just a springboard to a successful future. We cannot wait to help discover some of the untapped arts related potential here in Columbia. We are very excited to work with students who have been taking lessons for years to be a part of helping them fine tune their skills and are very excited to work with the students who have never had the opportunity to take a lesson. It is very exciting to be a part of this school.”

Dominik Mjartan, president and CEO of South Carolina Community Bank/Optus Bank, is a member of The Midlands Arts Conservatory Planning Committee. He shares, “The opportunity to serve The Midlands Arts Conservatory perfectly aligns with my family values and beliefs. I believe every child in America should have an opportunity to maximize his or her potential regardless of his or her birth privilege. High quality arts-infused education has been proven to substantially benefit children, especially those from low socioeconomic families. The Midlands Arts Conservatory has the potential to close the growing opportunity gap and positively impact the lives of children in the Midlands.”

Dr. Elisa Moskovitz, member of the planning committee for the Midlands Arts Conservatory, shares, “Dr. Robert Jesselson and I have discussed the need for this type of school in the Midlands for years. I was an active music educator in Lexington District One at the time, as well as a performing pianist and church musician. I was also the music coordinator for the Tri- District Arts Consortium. We had a passion for instilling in children a unique opportunity to find their artistic niche, over and above what is offered in public school. We are thrilled to see our vision become a reality so children of the Midlands can be better equipped to realize their potential in the arts.”

Catharine Aitken, also a member of The Midlands Arts Conservatory planning committee, received her master of arts in teaching/elementary education from the University of South Carolina and studied early childhood education at Tulane University.

She shared, “I am a parent of four arts-enthused children. My children all love to dance with the Columbia City Ballet and perform with the Columbia Children’s Theatre. We know there is a need for an arts-based school in the Midlands so kids like mine who already know they want to pursue an art form as a career can spend more time on what they love and developing their skills now. I also see the need for creative kids to have a home where they are understood and accepted, where their light can flourish.”

The Midlands Arts Conservatory is located at 3806 Nor th Main Street. The school will open on August 20.

Parents can visit www.enrollatmac.com, to enroll their children.

For more information, visit www.midlandsartsconservatory.org or call 803-630-IMAC.

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