SMARTS gets back on its feet

By Justin Wier


“You never need to explain to someone why sports are important,” said Becky Keck, executive director of Students Motivated by the Arts, or SMARTS.

She’s not against sports, but she feels the arts are integral to sporting events.

Imagine yourself at a football game, she said. Now imagine it without jerseys emblazoned with team logos, a marching band or a trophy to hold up when your team wins. Without arts, you wouldn’t even have TV or radio broadcasts of sporting events, she said. That’s why arts are important.

“It’s what makes us human,” Keck said. “It’s how we celebrate.”

The Ohio Arts Council recently named SMARTS as a recipient of the 2017 Governor’s Awards for the Arts. The organization was recognized for making significant contributions through leadership and creativity to advance arts education.

The organization exists to bridge the gap in arts education. It provides programming for underserved populations in districts that don’t always have the resources for arts programming. Current partners include South Side Academy and the United Way’s Success After Six program. Keck said it’s about preserving access and equity in the arts. SMARTS offers programs in visual art, music, dance, theater and creative writing.

“Because of budget cuts and the current focus on STEM, our mission is more valid than ever,” Keck said.

The state recognition comes as SMARTS is preparing a new home. The first floor of the Ohio One Building is undergoing renovations to accommodate the program.

A 4,700-square-foot room Keck calls the SMARTATORIUM takes up most of the first floor. It formerly served as the Ohio One’s sales floor in 1930, used to display new electric stoves and refrigerators. The space features terrazzo floors and high ceilings supported by ornate wooden columns. When renovations are done, students will come in through an entrance on Boardman Street.

SMARTS began its “All in One” fundraising campaign in July 2015. The goal is to raise $750,000 to fund the move to the Ohio One Building and the first three years of programming in the facility. Since then, $533,656 has been raised and now the move is underway.

Rich Mills, president of Ohio One, said offering the space to SMARTS at below market value is Ohio One’s contribution to the community.

“I’m extremely impressed with what SMARTS has done over the last 20 years,” Mills said. “I think [the new space] is going to be quite a success. … It’s going to put a spark of youth into the Ohio One building.”

Just three years ago, the program’s future was up in the air. The organization was founded in partnership with YSU in 1997, but the program fell victim to budget cuts in December of 2013.

In the early days of transitioning to a community organization, Keck was putting expenses on her own debit card. She still uses her own cellphone and laptop. But 36 months later, the state has recognized the work, and SMARTS is moving into a historic building. Keck credits community support for the organization’s success.

In addition to Ohio One, Keck said SMARTS has received support from other donors and organizations, highlighting contributions from the Legal Creative, Jet Creative and Barbara Brothers, a former YSU College of Arts and Sciences dean.

“This award is state recognition that validates every donor, every business, every investor that has helped us over the last 36 months,” she said. “This validates that SMARTS should not be taken for granted.”

She said the fundraising campaign is not yet complete. SMARTS still needs help to sustain programming. Keck said of 19 naming opportunities in the new space, only six have been spoken for. SMARTS is still $217,000 short of its $750,000 goal.

“We’re not done,” she said. “We still need community support to make this happen.”

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