stArts! initiative launched by Miss South Carolina International

  • Thursday, May 15, 2014

Kimberly Duncan/For South Strand News The stART Initiative aims to provide opportunities for elementary aged children to be exposed to music, dance, theatre, and the visual arts.


On April 26, International Pageants Inc. crowned Suzi Warner Roberts of Pawleys Island 2014’s Miss South Carolina International.

Roberts is a rising senior at the University of South Carolina, and the story of how she came to attain the new title is full of prestigious dancing awards, intensive dance training and a rigorous program of academic study.

More importantly now, though – according to Roberts herself – is what comes next. Very definitive and ambitious plans are already in motion.

An important detail of Roberts’ background is that she moved from home at 12 to pursue the dream of becoming a ballerina.

At a very early age she learned to live on her own – take care of her own place, pay her rent, balance her checkbook, get herself to and from classes, rehearsals, etc.

Her coach and mentor would accept nothing short of absolute professionalism, and it transformed Roberts into a poised, mature and thoughtful young woman.

An injury sidetracked Roberts as she was climbing the dance ladder, but it didn’t slow her down. Realizing she wouldn’t have a long-term career as a professional ballerina, she did a thorough reassessment of her life.

She continues to study dance and teach dance and she started noticing that many of her contemporaries did not have the benefit of exposure to the arts.

She started researching the benefits of art education – higher grades in math and science, more sophisticated reading skills, better SAT verbal scores and enhanced aptitude for second-language learners.

So, Roberts launched the stART Initiative.

“My life has been immersed in the arts, and I’ve enjoyed many life-changing encounters as a result. I am lucky to have walked this path. It made me the woman I am today, and I really want other kids to have similar experiences. Age, financial status, race, location … none of those things should determine whether or not a child is given the opportunity for “growing a cultivated mind.” I began the stART Initiative to be sure others are afforded a glimpse into the world that shaped my life.”

More formally explained, the stART Initiative aims to provide opportunities for elementary aged children to be exposed to music, dance, theatre, and the visual arts. By inspiring imagination, promoting discipline, enhancing self-esteem and fostering emotional expression, arts education helps students stretch their minds – and change their futures.

The idea is to create chapters a bit like Girl Scout chapters.

These chapters will be led by an adult volunteer from the community – a person who may or may not be “an artist” but cares about sharing knowledge with young people.

The purpose of every chapter will be to introduce young people to the arts and make the idea of the ballet, visiting a museum or the symphony, etc. seem less foreign and more relevant.

The organization will be inclusive of all forms of art.

For example, a chapter in Texas might choose to do a study on Hispanic art. In the South Carolina Lowcountry, the chapter may study Gullah art. Each chapter will evolve differently depending upon the make-up of the community and the contacts and interests of key volunteers. Eventually chapters may even offer arts-intensive programs/camps.

“Teaching a child how to act and giving them a general familiarity before embarking upon their first exposures to art makes experiences more meaningful and memorable,” says Roberts.

“The primary idea is delivering exposure ... not necessarily creating artists.”

The website is taking shape at www.ThestARTInitiative.org. She’s visited a number of local schools to speak to classes and distribute T-shirts and educational materials.

Right now, she’s busy creating study guides regarding an assortment of art events, as well as a start-up manual to establish structure for new chapters and the larger stART organization.

Roberts’ goal is for her grassroots effort to generate interest and support from smart people with different areas of expertise. And it is hoped her materials will be helpful and interesting to students and chapter members. Here she notes how pervasive budget cuts are in most school systems with regard to all things art-related. Her organization will address the importance of curbing those cutbacks, and then try to address existing gaps in education. There are already chapters in South Carolina, Texas and California.

Roberts is studying sports and entertainment management and is a busy member of the Carolina Girls Dance Team.

She’s also involved in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and volunteers as a dance teacher at the Columbia YMCA. In August, she will compete against competitors from the United States and the rest of the world for the title of Miss International.

Follow the growth of stART! on Facebook by searching “Suzi Roberts, Miss South Carolina International 2014.” Interested parties are encouraged to send an email to write@thestartinitiative.org. For information, contact Rich Carnahan at South Carolina International Pageants.

The phone number is 843-631-9269 and the email address is www.SouthCarolinaInternationalPageants.com.

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