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National Arts Search Helps Talented Students

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Art may be long, and life short, as numerous writers have remarked, but for the young artists who will learn this week if they are finalists in the Arts Recognition Talent Search (arts), the past several weeks may have seemed very long indeed.

The 152 students, whose talents range across the spectrum of the fine and performing arts, will discover whether they will be among the 85 finalists receiving cash awards of $3,000 each, or among the 67 semi-finalists, who will receive $1,500 each. The three-year-old national talent search, created to identify and encourage artistically accomplished high-school students, is sponsored by the Miami-based National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts (nfaa) and administered by the Educational Testing Service (ets) in Princeton, N.J.

The students, 132 of whom spent several days auditioning in Miami early in January, come from all over the United States. Some, like Y. Bernard Foister, a dancer from Camilla, Ga., attend public high schools.

Mr. Foister was encouraged by his dance teacher to enter the program. Members of his community worked together to raise the funds to send his mother and teacher with him to Miami.

Following Family Tradition

Other students, like David Niwa, a young musician from Chicago whose father is in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, are following a family tradition.

Some participants, including three dancers from Dallas, attend "magnet schools" for the arts. About one-third are members of a minority group. One competitor, Zoya Spivokosky, a writer from Brookline, Mass., who submitted the first chapter of her novel, spent the first 13 years of her life in Russia.

The young artists "compete" in the sense that only some will be named finalists. But "competition" is not the term foundation officials prefer to use in characterizing the arts program.

"It is a way for us to help young people with exceptional talent throughout the country to reach their goals," said Grant Beglarian, president of the nfaa and a musician and composer who came to the newly created foundation from the deanship of the University of Southern California's school of the performing arts.

The students usually hear of the arts program from teachers, school officials, or community organizations, and may enter in any of five areas: dance, music, theater, visual arts, and writing. Dance and theater entrants send a videotape of their performance; musicians send an audio tape; artists send slides; writers send manuscripts, according to program offi-cials. The entries must conform to specifications--length of performance or written work, for example--established by a panel of artists. Once the entries arrive at ets, the students' work is judged by professional artists and arts educators. (See photo spread, pages 12 and 13.)

The program's planners believe the participants receive something more valuable than scholarship money: opportunity. Most of the young artists have been studying for 10 years or so prior to entering the program. They are beginning, Mr. Beglarian said, "a lifetime of truly hard work."

The students demonstrate a high degree of discipline in their approach to their work, noted Mr. Beglarian, and they have learned something of those aspects of artistry that can be taught--craft and technique. But "what cannot be dealt with formally is that special gift, the elusive something that some people have and others don't," he said. "There are no courses for those things that I know of, just opportunities."

For some arts participants, the time in Miami may offer those opportunities.

"It's going to open a lot of doors for them," said Rosann McLaughlin Cox, the dance coordinator at the Dallas Arts Magnet High School. Ms. Cox has accompanied her students to the competition for three years.

But participating in the program also offers the young people opportunities beyond the tangible ones of money, scholarships, and visibility. They get to know others whose interests and hopes are similar to their own. One young man who came to Miami from an Indian reservation in New Mexico, said Mr. Beglarian, had never before been away from home.

Meeting Fellow Artists

"He was the only young fellow there who thought of being an artist,'' he added. "He came here and met 30 others like him. For this young man to have this experience at 17--this is a profound thing."

Most of the young people "have to learn to live solitary lives," according to Mr. Beglarian. "They have to sustain themselves. They have to be very inner-directed."

Knowing other young artists who are in the same position can help sustain them. The arts program, in one sense, tells them that "what you're doing is all right," Mr. Beglarian said.

The students seem to agree. "arts gave me the best chance I've ever had to be with people--my peers, who rapidly became my friends--to share and do what we love best, which is theater," said Katherine Dittmar, a 1981 arts finalist and Presidential Scholar from Dallas.

"It was exciting. I'm just sorry it can't happen to every kid we have. It's something these kids will never forget," Ms. Cox said.

The arts program, now in its third year, was started by the Educational Testing Service at the request of the White House-sponsored Commission on Presidential Scholars. The commission sought a way to identify artistically talented young people for inclusion in the Presidential Scholars program, which each year recognizes about 150 outstanding young Americans.

Since the advent of the arts program, about 20 to 25 of the Presidential Scholars chosen each year have been young artists.

For the first two years, the program was conducted by the ets Beginning this year, however, it was taken over by the nfaa

The foundation, which will support a range of programs designed to aid young artists during their formative years, was established by a group of business and civic leaders. Major financial support for arts comes from Ted and Marilyn Arison, a Miami shipping company executive and his wife.

All policymaking and fund raising for the arts program is conducted by the foundation, while the ets continues to oversee the application and judging processes, said a spokesman for the foundation.

Affirmative Action

Both the foundation and the ets have a strong interest in affirmative action, according to program officials. The first year of the program, arts received a $257,000 affirmative-action grant from the Ford Foundation. This year, about one-third of the finalists and semi-finalists were minority students, they noted.

The arts program is only one of the activities that the foundation will sponsor. Officials also hope, Mr. Beglarian said, that the foundation's activities will engender a healthy respect for and curiosity about the arts among students and teachers in schools around the country.

In the future, foundation activities may include workshops and "master classes," taught by established artists, for secondary-school students and teachers. They may also distribute videotapes of student artists, Mr. Beglarian said, so that young artists may see what their counterparts elsewhere are doing.

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