COOS BAY — They have the funding, now the Coos Art Museum and Sunset Middle School are brainstorming how to expand the school's arts curriculum.

Museum staff have been keeping an eye on the Oregon Community Foundation for the last two years, when the agency announced a $150 million gift from the Fred W. Fields Fund, the largest gift OCF has ever received. Fields, a longtime wood products executive, insisted the funds be used to support education and the arts. He died in December 2011.

Meanwhile, Coos Art Museum board member Kathleen Zappelli was working with Sunset Middle School teachers and the Bay Area Artists Association to bring three art classes to 500 students last school year. The kids studied lights and shadow, proportion and color.

OCF staff toured schools statewide last year, looking for those that met their criteria for the Studio to School program.

"They found out every school in the state was underserved in the arts," said Coos Art Museum executive director Steven Broocks. "But the most underserved of all were middle schools, particularly in rural locations. Sunset School is exemplary of the sort of site they were looking to help."

OCF reps wanted projects "ripe for expansion," schools that primarily served low income, rural or culturally diverse communities, and school partnerships with local arts organizations. Sunset, and 17 other schools, were a perfect fit. Earlier this month, the museum announced it had received $70,000 a year for three years, with the possibility of $35,000 a year for two years after, for Studio to School.

"Art and theater ... are really lacking right now," said Kathy Sizemore, the program's new education outreach director. "They give the students outlets for creativity. There's a lot that can apply to other disciplines."

Sizemore is a frequent substitute teacher at Sunset, and worked in one of Zappelli's art classes last year. Her salary will come out of the grant, but the majority of the funding will go toward programming. The program will likely focus on visual arts, at least in the beginning, Broocks said.

"We have pinched every penny until it screams, so to have some real funding is amazing," he said.

Sizemore said Sunset students could also see computer art and digital animation classes this year. She also wants the program to evolve to include music and theater.

"This first year will mostly be getting our feet on the ground and running," she said. "Later on, we'll be looking at more fundraising to keep the program going once the grant expires."

The museum already has a curriculum from years past that could be used for Studio to School.

"With so many budget cuts and other things going on in the schools, that sort of creative outlet is really kind of missing, or has greatly been reduced," she said. "At Sunset, they don't have any art programs at all, nothing except what classroom teachers can bring in."

One of those teachers is Sunset sixth grade science teacher Rebecca Peters, who incorporates art into her classes and will serve on the local committee to develop the program. She'll serve alongside Sizemore, Zappelli, Broocks and Sunset principal Dale Inskeep.

These are the types of programs that could open up career options for children who never would have known they existed, Zappelli said.

"I think it's great that they're looking at Sunset ... because a lot of those students won't have that type of opportunity," Sizemore said. "Economically, they can't afford it."

After the first year, the committee hopes Studio to School will expand to other local schools. Overall, OCF wants these 18 pilot sites to develop programs that can be replicated statewide.

Reporter Chelsea Davis can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 239, or by email at chelsea.davis@theworldlink.com. Follow her on Twitter: @ChelseaLeeDavis.

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