Gaston School of the Arts has been in the news lately, and that news has prompted an outpouring of community support. We are talking today with Joshua Adkins, the new Executive Director of the school, about the hopes, dreams and plans for this community treasure.
GA: First the good news – the death of GSOA was just a rumor?
Joshua: Well, there was a short period this summer when it looked like that was the future for the school. After the announcement was made in the paper and Facebook, there was an outcry from the community to make sure that didn’t happen. GSOA has been around for 30 years and the community did not want to see this valuable institution disappear. GSOA has experienced almost a rebirth with the resurgence of support from the community.
GA: What does GSOA bring to the community- what difference does it make?
Joshua: Like our motto states, “We bring the arts to life!”. For people of all ages, we do just that. The school offers opportunities to dabble, as well as, fine-tune many kinds of artistic expressions with very skilled and talented faculty. We offer many different artistic mediums, music lessons and dramatic opportunities. The arts can also be therapeutic for both the students and those enjoying whatever form of art, music or drama is being shared. GSOA will continue and expand opportunities for the community to enjoy excellence in art through dramas hosted and performed by the GSOA Playhouse, art shows of local and nationally renowned artists, and guest concerts. The GSOA Youth Orchestra is a free ensemble. This is a great opportunity for students to gain experience and develop their skills at no cost. The faculty and I will be taking our students out into the community and allow them opportunities to use the talents they are crafting to reach others.
GA: What are the strengths of GSOA and what development opportunities do you have?
Joshua: One of the biggest strengths we have at GSOA is our faculty. They have all remained with the school, new members have come on board and still more will be added in the near future. They are all extremely skilled in their craft; all continuing to maintain professional careers which further develops their abilities. Another great strength of GSOA is the board of directors. They are dedicated and ready to ‘roll up their sleeves’ to ensure that the GSOA has a long and very bright future. The community is another great strength. The community sees the value in GSOA and wants to come along side and partner with what we are doing. Many are coming along side helping out financially, offering to volunteer, and wanting to come to future programming to show their support. The facilities and equipment at GSOA are an amazing asset to the school. There is a pottery room with pottery wheels, a kiln, easels, theatre, music studios, instruments for the children, music classes and even lounge areas for parents or guardians to wait for their student(s) to finish their lessons. While parents are waiting, we offer Wi-Fi so adults or siblings can get work done, check emails, do homework and more. As far as the development opportunities, I can’t look to the future without remembering the past. I am really grateful for the foundations laid by so many in the past by faculty, staff, and board members. I am really excited about the opportunities for our future. We are going to be expanding our opportunities for adults to take art classes both during the morning/afternoon hours, as well as, evenings. GSOA is going to be offering classes and workshops that are one day or for a couple of hours, so people can experiment in something new or get instruction from a guest clinician for students of all ages. Opportunities for homeschool students are going to increase. GSOA Playhouse will be hosting guests to perform special musical concerts and dramas. The playhouse will also be producing pieces that are open to student and adult actors. We will be ever increasing our opportunities for people to study, learn and enjoy all the arts – visual, musical and dramatic.
GA: What are the possibilities – the big dream(s) for GSOA?
Joshua: My big dream for GSOA is that we would be the epicenter for the arts in the metro-Charlotte and southeast and that our ever-growing facilities would be hustling with activities morning, noon, and night with people of all ages and all walks of life. The finest artists, musicians, and actors would be birthed from our school and become regional and national leaders within their fields. I envision our playhouse hosting and performing dramatic pieces that not only entertain but impact society by causing attendees to rethink about the world around them. I’d love GSOA to be a place where people can hear the finest jazz, blues, bluegrass, classical music the area has to offer as performed by our faculty or guest musicians. A place that impacts people artistically, musically, emotionally, and mentally.
GA: Tell us a little of the history of GSOA?
Joshua: GSOA was birthed out of New Hope Presbyterian Church in 1983. At that time, the school was called New Hope Community School of the Arts. There were many classes taught by talented individuals in art, music and even dance. The nonprofit school soon outgrew the church’s facilities and eventually moved into the former First Baptist Church of Gastonia where it became the Gaston School of the Arts. After the purchase of the former Armstrong Memorial Presbyterian Church, GSOA found a permanent location. And here we are now 32 years later, excited to continue to impact children, youth and adults.
GA: GSOA has programs for both children and adults?
Joshua: Yes, we offer many art, drama and music classes for all ages. We have Mozart Kids and Kidz-n-Harmony – which help lay a foundation for students to then take individual music lessons in a wide variety of instruments. We also offer art classes for all ages. Starting this fall, we will be offering photography and Photoshop classes to both youth and adults. There are and will be even more opportunities for children, youth and adults to take drama classes, workshops, and even stage productions. During the summer, we have and will continue to offer summer camps in the arts.
GA: What would we be surprised to learn about GSOA?
Joshua: I think most people would be surprised at the variety of classes we offer within the drama, art and musical departments. Sometimes we use the term ‘art’ and most people think of visual arts, but the arts include so much more. Also, many people may be surprised at the level of expertise our faculty provides, even while maintaining their professional careers. The faculty’s biographies, as well as programming information, are available on our webpage: www.gastonschoolarts.org.
GA: Tell us a little about your background.
Joshua: I’ve been involved in the arts since I was a child. I remember taking a ceramics class in a community school similar to GSOA and learning to play a Suzuki violin in public school as a very young child. I continued to sing in select choirs and perform in dramas at school. I earned my Bachelor’s Degree in Vocal Performance and Music Education. While at ASU, I sang, acted and danced as part of the music and arts programs. I studied music and ballet in Graz, Austria as part of my training. As I was finishing my student teaching at Ashbrook High School, I was offered the opportunity to serve at First Baptist Church Belmont as their worship pastor. At that time, I noticed the great need for trained musicians, specifically keyboardists. I was getting called often while in the role as the Greater Gaston Baptist Association’s Director of Music for names of individuals who could play the piano or lead a church’s music ministries. Fewer and fewer students were studying the piano, organ or music. With the help of the church, we organized the Fine Arts Academy of First Baptist Church Belmont. Later, I was asked to take the role of Executive Director for that ministry and led in that role for many years. In 2012, my two-year-old daughter was diagnosed and treated for stage four rhabdomyosarcoma at Levine Children’s hospital in Charlotte and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. My wife and I had to make very difficult decisions during those 16 months of diagnosis and treatment. Although it was difficult, we felt it was best for me to step down from my leadership positions and focus on the continued treatment of our daughter who remains ‘no evidence of disease’ to this day. I am looking forward to being a part of the Gaston School of the Arts as Executive Director. I am very passionate about giving people opportunities to experience the arts and to bring the arts to life.