Kathy Wade, the founder and CEO of Cincinnati-based arts education organization Learning Though Art, is a well-versed, albeit quiet, conversationalist when it comes to her brainchild, which will put up its second Crown Jewels of Jazz Festival this weekend.
She’s passionate when describing what she does for her community and, really, many others across the country, through programs, events and initiatives aimed at bringing people together through the creative power of performance art. After all, she’s been at it since she started the whole thing in her home 22 years ago as an independent elementary school speaker.
“I came home one day complaining about the fact that there should be more art programs,” Wade says. “My late husband said, ‘What you’re doing is noble, but you should really make some money, so why don’t we start a 501(c)(3)?’ ”
Wade talks in soft and melodious phrases, which is fitting because she’s a Jazz singer, too.
“I had just released my CD. It was doing really well in Europe, and I thought, well, I’ll get to it [starting the organization],” Wade says.
Though a CCM-educated arts administrator, Wade never intended to run a nonprofit. But six months after talking with her husband, she was incorporated anyway, and more than two decades later, to say she’s “gotten to it” would be an understatement.
“I’ve always really been dedicated to providing quality performing arts programs in support of arts education, literacy, integrated arts education and making sure that at the end of the day, we can build community through art,” she says. “So there are programs we utilize to make that happen and programs we develop to make that happen.”
In their Sycamore Street space, she and a sales manager, events coordinator, education specialist and media representative manage two branches of programming each year: Mosaic Entertainment and Books Alive for Kids.
Mosaic Entertainment umbrellas an array of K-12 school performances, combining live Jazz music with a message of love for others, respect for self or readiness for learning.
“We’ve been lucky enough to help about a million people at this point, which I don’t like to think about because it makes me feel old,” Wade says.
Books Alive is a purchasable curriculum guide for teachers, parents and tutors to teach preschool- through third-grade-aged students in a multi-sensory way. These packages mean reading first, then crafting, then watching one of Learning Through Art’s four-time Emmy nominated performance programs.
“I want to take a book and I want to make it do all kinds of things, so that somewhere along that continuum, for that kid who won’t just pick up a book and read, we will catch that child somewhere along the path,” she says.
Then there are Cincinnati events besides Crown Jewels of Jazz, including the Macy’s Kids, Cultures, Critters & Crafts Festival, put on in partnership with the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. For the fest, the zoo offers $1 general admission for one day in July.
“The first year we did this I was sitting in the amphitheater talking to this family,” Wade says. “They had two sets of twins and two singles, so it was six kids. I said, ‘So what’d you like about the day?’ They said, ‘This is great because we’ve got six kids. That’s $12 a pop. We can’t do this. We live in West Chester.’ I was like, OK, I get it. It evens the playing field for everybody to be able to come in.”
Not just for the animals, but also for entertainment aimed at celebrating cultures through music, dance, crafts and puppetry.
“Because at the end of the day, what it allows us to do is get folks together in Cincinnati, whether they’re from West Chester, Walnut Hills, Corryville, Over-the-Rhine or Price Hill,” Wade says. “It doesn’t matter where you’re from, you get to get in for a dollar. We just ask that you introduce yourself to someone who is, in some way, different from you.”
For Wade, art is the first and easiest point of human connection, her means to an educated, integrated, connected end, and the way she’s going to help the world, one program, community or even performance at a time.
“I not only understand how to teach and build community though art, but I also understand the emotion of art, that’s the singing part,” she says. “You might not know me from Adam, you might not have ever heard me sing, but just give me one song, six notes. I’ve got you. We’re going to have a conversation because that’s my job.”
The Crown Jewels of Jazz Festival takes place Friday and Saturday, with events in Washington Park and the School for the Creative and Performing Arts. For more information on LEARNING THROUGH ART, visit learningthroughart.com.