LEXINGTON, Ky. (July 14, 2020) — Most years when you talk with any of Kentucky’s Governor’s School for the Arts participants, alumni or former faculty members it is hard to deny their passion for the program and its mission. So, one might wonder if the program would have the same impact on new GSA participants when it had to go online this summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If “resident advisor” and University of Kentucky theatre student Elena Guerra is any indication, the program is continuing to have a powerful connection while inspiring the Commonwealth’s most talented teens.
Since 1987, more than 6,400 young rising high school juniors and seniors have descended on a college campus setting to immerse themselves in an arts intensive environment, with cross-discipline learning, guest artist performances and lectures, and the opportunity to access college scholarships. Instruction is offered in nine disciplines: architecture and design, creative writing, dance, drama, film and photography, instrumental music, musical theater, visual art and vocal music.
When Guerra signed up to serve as an RA, more than 200 arts students were expected to arrive at her alma mater for three weeks of immersive arts education beginning June 29. Instead, GSA students have been flexing their creative muscles on screens across the state while staying healthy at home.
A former high school athlete from Winchester, Kentucky, she originally declared a Spanish major at UK with plans to pursue a law degree. It wasn’t until she took a theatre course her first semester that the arts took center stage in her life. “I realized that my dreams and aspirations had nothing to do with a ‘traditional’ career and education path leading to wealth. It had to do much more with telling stories that matter.”
Read more about Guerra’s GSA experience below.
UKNow: Did you attend GSA or something similar?
Guerra: I actually did not! As a high schooler I was much more focused on playing volleyball and knocking out college credit. Our annual school musical was definitely an afterthought for me in high school, but something I enjoyed and created many memories out of.
UKNow: What does your RA position with GSA entail with the program going online?
Guerra: As a "residential advisor," I would typically be in residence as a mentor to a select group of students, in addition to the rest, and act as a disciplinary supervisor at meal and free times.
This year is obviously a little different, but thankfully the staff has still been necessary in daily RA group meetings. In short, we help create the community of GSA among the students.
UKNow: What made you interested in working with GSA?
Guerra: I actually had a few friends attend the program as a student. The way they described the experience was captivating to me. I knew the opportunity to attend the program had come and gone for me, but the option to guide students in their artistic pursuit in furthering their craft was just as great an idea to me! And the fact that GSA was going to be on my own campus added a sense of comfortability to applying.
UKNow: How has going online impacted GSA in your opinion?
Guerra: Despite the obvious challenges, it is nice to see students embracing this new format. Since we do not know how long creating art could be online, it is great that our students are learning and adapting with their industries. It definitely makes connecting them to each other quite difficult, but our staff has found ways to help them connect in this new format.
UKNow: Have you discovered some benefits to the online experience?
Guerra: I was surprised by the individuality and self-confidence this online experience creates. For example, a dancer may find it easy to blend into a large class, whereas now the same dancer could be alone in their space trusting their own movement in a way they hadn't before. Seeing my students grow in this way has been nice to hear and experience.
UKNow; Why do you think it was important to continue GSA this summer, even if it had to be virtual?
Guerra: Just by working at GSA I have created a new family. I'm sure I speak for all members of our team when I say, I couldn't imagine a summer without GSA. This could be the first time a young artist is validated by their passion instead of torn down for it. This could be the first time an artist takes pride in the art in their home state instead of being embarrassed by it. GSA is more than a program or a place, it is a feeling. So, the option of not having it was probably unfathomable to our administrative team.
UKNow: What do you hope your group takes away from GSA?
Guerra: I hope my group sees a family of artists within itself and beyond, that they are now connected to, as an eventual alum, for the rest of their lives.
UKNow: What do you think you will take away from this virtual experience?
Guerra: I hope the positivity of these kids creating art despite the circumstances continues to inspire me the way it is right now.
GSA is a public/private partnership inaugurated in 1987 by The Kentucky Center (now Kentucky Performing Arts), The Commonwealth of Kentucky and numerous private supporters. Today, the vital funding required to make GSA a reality is provided by the state through the leadership of the Governor’s Office and the Kentucky Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, as well as The Kentucky Center Endowment Fund, Toyota Motor Manufacturing and more than 300 corporations, parents, educators, alumni and friends of GSA.
The mission of Kentucky Performing Arts is to build lifelong relationships with the arts. As an integral member of the Kentucky Tourism, Arts, and Heritage Cabinet, Kentucky Performing Arts, along with the other agencies, seeks to preserve and promote the history, heritage and arts of the Commonwealth.
The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers." We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.