Community Hero: Lisa Davis Brings the Arts to the Classroom

Lisa Davis’ interest in theater hails all the way back to elementary school, she says.

Specifically, playing the Pied Piper in a class play.

“I thought that was the coolest thing,” Davis says, adding that this led to taking theater classes throughout her youth. “That was really important to my chosen path.”

This budding interest blossomed later in life, with Davis giving cabaret shows across the U.S., including at Lincoln Center, and cofounding the improvisation troupe Kentucky Fried Theatre.

Grateful for the early inspiration she received in life, Davis has invested her talents for years in paying this forward.

After managing arts education programs across the U.S., the experienced performer now works as a professional teaching artist with The Smith Center’s Southern Nevada Wolf Trap (SNWT) Early Learning Through the Arts program.

Through this program — made possible by Smith Center donors including United Way of Southern Nevada Women’s Leadership Council — Davis works in local preschool classrooms, where she trains teachers on using the arts to teach all curricula.

“Giving anyone the opportunity to create in a trusting, warm space is positive for developing the whole person, in addition to their ability to think and solve problems,” Davis says.

Creativity in the Classroom

Involved in SNWT since The Smith Center began the program, Davis believes in incorporating all of the arts to engage preschool students.

This might include leading students in songs about good behavior, or getting them out of their seats to engage in creative movement or performing a play to experience a subject in a more meaningful way.

When she pulls out puppets, she adds, students give their rapt attention.

“We use all of the tools in our toolbox,” Davis says. “It depends on what I see the children responding to.”

Response from students is immediate, she adds.

Throughout her years as a teaching artist, Davis has seen students show increased interest, engagement and retention with arts-based teaching.

“It’s a way of engaging children in surprising ways,” she says. “It’s not just sitting and learning at a table, but learning with your whole body.”

Finding Their Voice

Davis has even seen arts in the classroom help students communicate.

She recalls students on the autism spectrum with limited verbal skills opening up to lessons focused on collaborative conversations.

Arts-based activities promote a judgment-free atmosphere, she explains, where any student can feel comfortable speaking.

“I’ve seen kids whose language is limited, who end up speaking and participating by the end of our classroom residencies,” she says. “That to me is a milestone, when a child who is nonverbal lights up and participates. It’s an amazing and wonderful thing to see.”

More to Come

Davis, who is also the wife of Smith Center COO Paul Beard, plans to expand her efforts with the arts in Southern Nevada.

This includes increasing her work with Project Imagine, a program in which artists conduct art projects with children at local hospitals.

She also delights in reporting her recent participation in a clowning workshop, which she fully expects to apply in arts education experiences.

Regardless of where the arts take her, she feels grateful to instill inspiration among so many children.

“It’s coming full circle, because I feel a little bit like the Pied Piper, taking people down a road I find so inspiring,” she says.

Learn More

To learn more about Smith Center teaching artists, visit: http://www.thesmithcenter.com/education/teaching-artists/

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