Itsy Studio at Illinois Art Station Receives Grant to Enable Early Childhood Art Education Program – News

The Illinois Art Station at Illinois State University announced a $45,000 grant from the PNC Foundation to benefit Redbirds Rising: The Campaign for Illinois State which funds the Illinois Art Station Itsy Studio: in the community program. The grant money, which is part of PNC’s Grow Up Great®, will be distributed to the program over two years. Illinois Art Station is a collaboration between the Illinois State College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Fine Arts.

Itsy Studio: in the community was inspired by artist residencies at public schools in New York, Chicago and California. The Itsy Studio program is designed to help children:

  1. Develop and improve socio-emotional learning skills, as well as creative and critical thinking skills and habits.
  2. Recognize and communicate emotions through transformative and practical weekly visual art lessons.
  3. Observe, solve, reflect, communicate and think like an artist.

The program allows an early childhood teaching artist and graduate students from the Illinois State University School of Art to teach children ages three to five at Heartland Head Start and the Sarah E. Raymond School of Early Education. Itsy Studio aims to reach over 600 students across both sites within two years.

Seventy-nine percent of the 340 students at Sarah E. Raymond School of Early Education are eligible for District 87’s free and reduced lunch program, and 100 percent of students in Sarah Raymond’s Preschool for All program are eligible for early childhood education according to Illinois State guidelines.

“We are already working to meet the needs of our students with a program focused on their social-emotional development. We view the Itsy program as a great addition to and reinforcement of our current model,” said Sarah E. Raymond Early Childhood Education Principal Danel Behrends-Harr.

One hundred percent of Heartland Head Start’s student population meets federal income guidelines for eligibility and 18 percent are bilingual. “The new initiative will give our students benefits they wouldn’t otherwise have access to,” said Mary Lou Nelson, Child and Family Services Specialist for Heartland Head Start.

“Research shows that children who participate in high-quality preschool programs are more likely to succeed in school and contribute to society later in life,” said Jenna Cicciarelli Wiesner, Vice President of PNC, Director of Client and Community Relations for Central Illinois. “Itsy Studio at the Illinois Art Station was a good choice for a Grow Up Great grant because it will increase children’s access to high-quality educational opportunities at a young age.”

Not only will the grant allow Itsy Studio to reach students in the area, but it will also create a new position within the Illinois Art Station: an artist teaching early childhood. This position will teach all students in the Itsy Studio program and also facilitate professional development workshops to enrich and develop sustainable visual arts practices in the classroom.

The Itsy Studio also provides an environment for scientific research on early childhood development and psychology. Julie Campbell, an assistant professor of psychology at Illinois State, plans to study the relationship between children’s hand preference and fine motor skills. “This information can be used to explore other research questions that examine the link between fine motor skills and other cognitive abilities, such as language,” Campbell said.

The PNC Foundation, which receives its primary funding from the PNC Financial Services Group, actively supports organizations that provide services to benefit the communities in which it has a significant presence. The foundation focuses its philanthropic mission on early childhood education and community and economic development, which includes arts and culture. Through Grow Up Great, its flagship cause that began in 2004, PNC created a bilingual, $500 million, multi-year initiative to help prepare children from birth to age 5 to succeed in school and in life.

Support during the Redbirds Rising campaign promotes scholarship, leadership, and innovation in the state of Illinois. To learn more about Illinois Art Station, visit To follow the success of the Redbirds Rising campaign and contribute today, visit

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