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Hero POSITIVE PROGRAMS Over the past 15 years, Sheila Womble has created programs that serve children from infancy to high school, opened a studio in the West Grove and led Arts For Learning through a period of significant growth. T E X T BY SA N DY L I N D S E Y I n 1999, noted Philanthropist R. Kirk Landon commissioned Young Audiences, Inc., to conduct a needs assessment of Miami-Dade County’s arts education resources. The conclusion was that world-class education includes the arts and students needed more. Arts for Learning was launched to fill the gap. “The arts are vital to a community, education and even our wellbeing,” says Sheila Womble, Executive Director. “Arts For Learning works to remind children that they are artists. We do this because somewhere along the way, far too many children start saying I can’t — I can’t draw. I can’t dance. I can’t sing. I can’t act. This is a problem because art is our first language. Young children use the arts to explore and make meaning of the world and their surroundings. They sing, dance, act, pretend and draw to interpret the world around them. We want all children to keep that first and most universal language and make sure they can access the power of the arts throughout their life.” Growing up, Womble’s career aspirations changed but there was one factor that remained paramount: Her work needed to benefit the community. As a child, she was drawn to literature and the arts. In college, she worked at ArtCenter/South Florida under the direction of Jane Gilbert. “It was a special time at the ArtCenter and in Miami,” she says. “Artists were relocating to 58 the city, returning or beginning to establish their careers here. I witnessed the ArtCenter transform in just a few years. When she was tapped to establish Arts For Learning in Miami, she again gave me another chance; this time it wasn’t just about my growth but about the potential growth of this new and promising organization that I would one day lead.” Today, Arts For Learning offers after-school and summer camp programs, student studio programs, high school internships in the arts, arts-integrated instruction and teacher trainings at more than 40 preschools, schools and out-of-school locations throughout the county. In the past 15 years, they have served more than 120,000 students. Each summer, they hire up to 50 interns as visual and performing artists, and at the end of the internship, they conduct thorough exit interviews. “In discussing what they learned through their work as an artist, one intern noted that until the Arts For Learning internship, he didn’t think a workplace could be a positive or nurturing place,” says Womble. “In comparison with his one other experience with a job, he said that he now realized how a manager who supports his team and colleagues and fosters honest and direct communication makes for a better work environment, and, ultimately, a better product.”; A4LMiami.org.