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Outside the box


July 23, 2001|By ANTHONY LONGORIA, Staff Writer

Teresa Novinger, 36, accepts that young children are taught to color flowers red and stems green, leaves green and branches brown.

That doesn't necessarily mean Novinger wouldn't like to see a bit of creativity among the crayons and finger paints.

"If a child wants to color purple leaves and branches, so be it," Novinger said.

This "think-outside-the-box" philosophy is the force that drives Novinger's involvement in the arts.

It's a message she hopes to spread through her goals as the Imperial County Arts Council's interim director.

Novinger's term as interim director has recently been extended by the council's board.

The council has been plagued by leadership issues since the resignation of Mitjl Capet in 1999. Since then the board has experienced several resignations and has failed to hire a permanent director. Nan Rebik served as interim director until her dismissal in May.

Since May, Novinger has served as interim director and has maintained the summer arts program Rebik created during her term to accompany the Mostly Theatre Company's summer program.


This year, Novinger and council program manager Randy Carson have expanded the summer program to include several more offerings, including classes in archaeology, Native American culture and creative writing.

Between her duties as director, Novinger teaches a dance class for the council's summer program.

Novinger attended the California Arts Council's annual two-day conference in San Francisco on behalf of the Imperial County Arts Council in June.

A key concern conference participants expressed was lack of funding going toward statewide arts programs.

"We all felt that governmentally we should be receiving more funds," Novinger said. "(The arts) are an important thing and it should be funded by the education system and by local government within a community."

Lack of interest in the arts, Novinger thinks, has been detrimental to the arts wavering ability to sustain a role in society and has contributed to the lack of funding for such programs.

The lack of interest, Novinger blames largely on young students' lack of exposure.

"Arts is not a part of the school system," Novinger said. "Our challenge is, ‘How do we get a systemic change to get arts into the classroom?'"

For Novinger, the arts are an outlet for young, creative students who she says will grow up to become the "leaders of tomorrow."

Novinger said a major reason students aren't exposed to the arts is because teachers are unable to break out of the cycle of standardized testing, which leaves little time for the arts.

Also, Novinger said modern teachers aren't properly trained in the arts and aren't instructed in ways of incorporating the arts into their curriculum.

"It is a child's God-given right to be able to experience the arts from an early age and that's something that they're being denied right now," Novinger said. "Some children are exposed, but it's not systemic."

A statewide visual arts and performing arts framework was created in 1998 but Novinger said the plan has largely stayed on educators' bookshelves "collecting dust."

The education system "needs to change for our children here in Imperial County, in the state and in the nation," Novinger said.

Accessibility is an issue Novinger plans to tackle through her involvement in the arts. Novinger thinks all children should be offered arts classes, not just those who can afford it.

Accessibility, Novinger said, creates exposure, which creates a future audience and patron base that will sustain arts programs in the future.

The benefits of the arts, Novinger said, is an age-old case of allowing people to access their creativity.

"We want to teach outside of the box. We want people to access their creativity," Novinger said. "People who are not able to express themselves can do so through dance, music or a paint brush."

Novinger thinks the arts can be used as a deterrent to violence in schools.

"I would bet money that if you go into a school and take away a potential weapon and in it's place put a paint brush, you will see a difference in that child by the time they leave school," Novinger said.

Regarding the future of the Arts Council, Novinger is aiming high and hopes the council will see expansion in its outreach to children.

"I would love to see us be active in every public school," Novinger said.

Novinger plans to soon introduce after-school arts programs for local elementary schools. The programs would eventually introduce artists-in-residence teaching in local schools.

She is in negotiations with the University of California, San Diego's San Diego Writing Project to incorporate creative writing courses into the Arts Council's offerings beyond its summer program.

Novinger plans on continuing to create programs that will ensure accessibility to children who can't normally access the arts.

Her goals include addressing a local need for preparatory arts offerings, in all disciplines, for students wishing to pursue or study the arts after high school or in specialized programs such as the Southwest Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts.

Among the host of tasks the Arts Council will face, Novinger said she hopes to continue her work with the organization in whatever capacity offered to her.

"I believe strongly in what the Arts Council is about and the power for change that it carries," she said.

Novinger grew up in Brawley after her family moved to the Valley from Austin, Texas, in the 1970s. Shortly after the move, Novinger took up ballet lessons, which led to a life-long love of dance.

She previously owned the Whimsical Theatre of the Imagination in El Centro.

She has a bachelor's degree in English from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.

For more information on ICAC's summer program contact Novinger at 337-1777.

Staff Writer Anthony Longoria can be reached at 337-3452.

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