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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.