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Arts Presenters/MetLife Arts Access Award
Engaging Underserved Communities

Sponsored by MetLife Foundation, this award honors organizations that have been exemplary and innovative in their dedication and approach to engaging underserved individuals and communities that lack access to the performing arts and cultural life in the community.

University of Florida Performing Arts (2010)

Recognizing the AIM Together partnership program of University of Florida Performing Arts and Shands Arts in Medicine

The AIM (Arts in Medicine) Together program began as an investigation of how art could reduce the stress of hospitalization. It evolved into a central philosophy of care for an entire health system, and a transformative vision for a performing arts presenter: that art is an integral component of healing.

A partnership between University of Florida Performing Arts and Shands Arts in Medicine, AIM Together brings world-class performing artists into healthcare settings to provide performances and interactive arts experiences to people whose access to the arts is limited by age, illness, or disability. Well beyond a traditional performance partnership, AIM Together seeks to enrich the lives of hospital patients, visitors, and caregivers while also helping artists bring deeper meaning to their work. Artists involved in the program have included The Ten Tenors (Australia), STOMP (USA), Soweto Gospel Choir (South Africa), Interpreti Veneziani (Italy), Nrityagram Indian Dance Ensemble (India), Bayanihan Philippine Dance Company (Philippines), and Teatro Hugo and Ines (Peru), and many others.

Shands Healthcare, a health system affiliated with the University of Florida, began its exploration of the arts and healing in 1990 through the Shands Arts in Medicine program. The initiative gained an invaluable partner through University of Florida Performing Arts with the help of a National Endowment for the Arts pilot grant in 2004. Together, these institutions pooled their interest and their expertise in transformative ways.

Through this program, performances and arts experiences are staged throughout the health system, from waiting rooms to lobbies to outpatient clinics. As the artists move deeper into the hospital, they participate on hospital floors in group areas, hallways, and nursing stations within the oncology units, pediatric floors, bone marrow transplant units, and general care units. For those too ill or frail to participate in group activities, artists work at the bedside. With caregiver approval, artists have even worked with patients in the pediatric intensive care unit, neonatal intensive care unit, and the burn unit – areas that have otherwise been restricted from artistic interaction.

Beyond the welcome distraction such arts experiences provide, AIM Together has fostered significant health and wellness benefits to its participants. The creative energy, expressive movement, personal reflection, and deep relationships offered through direct interaction with world-class artists has shown real results in patient mental and physical well-being, as well as the reduced stress and increased coping skills of family members and caregivers.

The partnering organizations behind AIM Together have also become international resources to the effort of arts in healing. University of Florida Performing Arts has shared the process and insights of the program at regional, national, and international conferences. Other performing arts presenters, artists, and arts organizations have trained in Gainesville to launch programs of their own, or to extend their efforts in more productive ways.

The Wooden Floor (formerly Saint Joseph Ballet) (2010)

Since 1983, The Wooden Floor (formerly Saint Joseph Ballet) has transformed thousands of young lives through its dance training, academic assistance, and family services. With a specific focus on low-income youth, The Wooden Floor teaches life skills through dance, including self-awareness, confidence, leadership, cooperative learning, and discipline.

Far beyond a short-term, after-school dance program, The Wooden Floor provides a 10-year curriculum for youth ages 8 – 19, building skills, character, and creative capacity through intensive ballet and modern dance programs, improvisation and choreography, and somatic studies (a discipline and process for connecting mind and emotion to physical movement). The Wooden Floor also connects world-class artists with their students and their programs, commissioning internationally established choreographers for long-term projects. Master classes with guest artists also reinforce the artistic impact of programming, featuring dancers from American Ballet Theatre, Backhaus Dance Company, José Limón Dance Company, and Elizabeth Streb, among others.

Because its goals are so ambitious, its resources lean, and its community’s need so great, The Wooden Floor makes every effort to measure and focus its success at every step. Since 1993, the organization has published three independent studies that assess the effectiveness of its programs and their impact on children’s long-and short-term social and behavioral development. More extended longitudinal studies, begun in 2003, explore whether self-concept improves through extended participation or increased dance proficiency.

The results of these studies have been consistently impressive. With a countywide dropout rate among Latino students of 63 percent, Wooden Floor students have seen a 100 percent graduation rate since 2004, with 98 percent attending college. The vast majority of Wooden Floor families (96 percent) are HUD designated “Low to Extremely Low Income.” Many of the students attend the region’s lowest performing schools. Yet, The Wooden Floor’s long-term commitment to its students and their families, the opportunities to explore and express, and the clarifying demands of dance have created new opportunities and new hope.

The Wooden Floor strives for continual growth not only among its students, but also in its own programming and capacity. Two parents serve on the board, to ensure a voice for the families being served. Dance faculty work closely with social workers and clinical psychologists to ensure responsive and intelligent program choices. Close partnerships with community leaders and community organizations reinforce the organization’s connections to the lives and families of its participants. And its annual concert performances offer many reasons for community celebration.

The Wooden Floor tells its students, “from here, you can step anywhere.” Their evidence and their experience suggests the slogan is not just a promise, but a fact.

APAP|NYC Conference