Enriching arts education: These Wabash programs help rural Indiana students get creative

Chances are, if you've spent any time in Northeast Indiana, you’ve heard of the Honeywell Center. But did you know that this 70-year-old venue is only part of what’s offered under the umbrella of the Honeywell Arts & Entertainment brand?
 
The Honeywell Foundation, a nonprofit arts organization located in Wabash, Indiana, raises funds for and operates the collection of venues and programs that make up Honeywell Arts & Entertainment. A big part of what they offer is their education programs. According to the Honeywell Arts & Entertainment website, “the arts have a proven, substantial impact during formative years by improving academic performance, motor skills, confidence, creativity, focus, and collaboration.”

The Honeywell Center at 275 W Market St. in Downtown Wabash.
 
The Honeywell Foundation has dedicated resources to reaping these developmental benefits inside and outside of the classroom. Their two school-based programs are Visual Thinking Strategies and Teaching Artist Residencies. Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) is a nationally-recognized curriculum used by Honeywell for grades three, four, and five. Facilitators go into the schools once a month for 45-minute sessions. They teach VTS in 77 classrooms, across 10 schools, in five counties. Using different pieces of visual art, they facilitate student-centered conversations to develop critical thinking skills. The facilitators show two to three images and end each session with a writing exercise about the art.
 
“Traditional classroom teachers are skilled at helping students closely read a text,” says Kristi Unger, Director of Education for the Honeywell Foundation. “VTS facilitators do the same thing, but they use art as a means of understanding concepts. This approach helps level the playing field for students who are not as skilled at decoding texts.”
 
The other in-school program Honeywell offers is Teaching Artist Residencies. Brian Kruschwitz, a multi-instrumentalist, is one of the artists employed for this program. He makes classroom visits to first, second, and third graders in the fall and the spring, and provides video sessions in between. Kristi Unger
 
The other teaching artist is Kevin Stonerock. Unger calls him a “Hoosier historian.” In the fall, Stonerock teaches fourth grade students Indiana history through live, first-person interpretations and videos. In the spring, he comes back to present his first-person interpretation of a Civil War soldier.
 
Besides these classroom-based programs, students also have the opportunity to visit the Honeywell Center through field trips and what’s called “Page-to-Stage Student Matinees.” The Honeywell Art & Entertainment organization’s education offerings grew out of the Page-to-Stage Student Matinees more than 20 years ago. Since then, it has evolved to include the artist residencies in the schools. When the matinees first started, however, they were more about entertainment or one-off educational opportunities. In the last four years, Honeywell has focused on offering a more in-depth experience with these programs.
 
Cathy Gatchel, Chief Development Officer at the Honeywell Foundation, oversees the education and arts programs as well as development and marketing. Gatchel says that as schools have increasingly been under pressure to meet Indiana’s learning standards, the Honeywell organization has emphasized integrating the arts with these standards to help educators reach their goals. Cathy Gatchel
 
While the programs the Honeywell Foundation presents to primary schools is extensive, there’s more to the Arts in Education arm of the organization. Gatchel describes what they offer from elementary to high school as “a full-spectrum of opportunities.” Their summer theater program was initially a school-based program fed by area middle and high schools. It was going to be disbanded because the schools couldn’t afford to offer it anymore, and Honeywell stepped in and took it over.
 
Jessica Keffaber, Education Media Manager, and Gatchel are alumnae of the theater program. The Honeywell Foundation has continued the summer theater program and is expanding it. With the addition of Keffaber, and Carolyn Stoner, Director of Arts, now they can offer year-round opportunities, not just in the summer.
 
“What we’re finding is the theater departments in schools just don’t have as many resources as they once did,” says Gatchel.
 
The Honeywell Foundation is again stepping in to meet the needs of students by offering camps for grades 1-12. The camps offer a place for students just starting out in theater to get used to being on stage and learn how to move their bodies. Moving up through the camps, they learn the foundations of theater. By the time they get to high school, the students put on full-length Broadway shows in a matter of only three weeks.
 
“We are giving these kids an opportunity to be a part of these theater programs that they may not be getting in their schools,” says Keffaber. “And we do it as professionally as we can.”

Honeywell Summer Theatre students work on a production of "Newsies" in 2019.
 
In addition to music and theater, Honeywell also has visual arts programs. They work with the schools to have student shows in the Honeywall Art Center gallery. The Center’s large gallery shows professional, amateur, and student art throughout the year. And they are looking for ways to expand the visual arts programs to engage more residents. Carolyn Stoner
 
“There is just so much opportunity that it’s an exciting place to be,” says Stoner. “I think Wabash County’s a pretty exciting place to live.”
 
Stoner was hired by the Honeywell Foundation to help draw connections between several of the activities they were already doing.
 
“I moved here from Chicago about six or seven months ago for this role, to grow this program,'' she says. “I’m immersing myself into the community and learning about what the students and the parents want…. I’m working on the supply part because the demand is there.”
 
In addition to managing and supporting the growth of the theater program, Stoner is in charge of the music lessons program. She says they have a waiting list for people interested in taking private piano lessons, and they’ve had significant interest from people who want to learn strings, guitar, and voice. Gatchel confirms that there is demand.
 
“In fact, right now, we have more interest than we have available slots,” she says. “So that’s our next challenge: trying to find additional teachers and instructors so we can expand the number of opportunities.”

Brenden Rowan mans the lights during a production.
 
And Stoner has a personal request: “If you can find a bagpipe teacher, I very much want to learn how to play the bagpipes,” she says. “I was taking lessons when I lived in Milwaukee, and I can almost play ‘Amazing Grace.’”
 
While there is a fee charged for the music lessons, the Honeywell Foundation works to make it affordable and offers a sliding fee scale.
 
“Everything we do at Honeywell is underwritten through support,” says Gatchel. “We have a lot of generous donors, grants, sponsorships, and some endowments that help support us as well.”

Honeywell media arts students have access to world-class labs and equipment.
 
Gatchel says underwriting is paramount because if they charged the actual costs of their programs, they would price themselves out of the market. It’s true of the summer theater program, too. If they charged what it cost them, they wouldn’t be able to attract enough students because it would be too expensive for many families in the community.
 
“Donor support is very important to us,” she confirms.

Honeywell Summer Theatre students work on a production of "All Together Now" in 2021.
 
One of the things that has made the Honeywell Arts in Education programs so successful is the way they have come alongside the schools with an arts-integrated approach. They have partnered with educators to teach the skills that students need to learn, while also offering arts programs that students, parents, and the community want.
 
“The other thing, that goes without saying after these last couple of years (of the pandemic), is how important (the arts are) just for our sanity,” says Gatchel. “Whether it’s the demand for the music lessons or the popularity of summer camps… more and more we’ve discovered just how important the arts truly are in everything that we do.”

Second-year media arts students participate in a multi-cam project.
 
Stoner says it’s been wonderful as a new person in the community to meet people who have participated in Honeywell’s programs when they were younger and find out what it meant to them. She explains that not everyone who goes through Honeywell Arts and Education programs is going to become a professional in the entertainment industry.
 
“That isn’t the main goal. The main goal is to give students and the community the opportunity to explore an art form that means something to them.”
 
That said, one place where arts education is meant to lead to a career is through the partnership between the Heartland Career Center in Wabash and the Honeywell Foundation. These organizations teamed up a few years ago to start a Media Arts program that is conducted at the Honeywell Foundation’s Eagles Theatre. The second floor of this recently-renovated, 115-year-old building houses a computer lab, film studio, and professional-level recording studio. As juniors and seniors, students can choose to take a media arts class. Jessica Keffaber
 
“They can learn… photography, video, audio, script writing, editing…,” says Keffaber who teaches here. “It’s a program that I wish I had had access to before I went to college.”
 
Keffaber has had multiple students who have been accepted into colleges where they are going to pursue programs in the media arts.
 
“It’s great to be able to pass on my knowledge to these kids,” she says. “To teach them these things that, in Wabash County, you wouldn’t think you would have access to.”
 
Keffaber experienced her own early-career success. After graduating from Wabash High School, she attended Ball State and graduated with a degree in Telecommunications. About a year after she graduated, she ended up in Los Angeles.
 
“Through connections with people that I went to school with, I worked at (the show) ‘Deal or No Deal’ for a little while as a stagehand,” she explains.
 
Eventually, the show was canceled, and she found her way back to Wabash where she has family.
 
“I got into teaching and ended up at Honeywell, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

Honeywell media arts students have access to world-class labs and equipment.
 
Keffaber certainly seems to have a passion for what she does. She happily shares the successes of her current and former students. One of those students, Brenden Rowan, is a senior at Wabash High School and plans to go to Ball State in the fall to study theater lighting design.
 
“I have done pretty much every section of the (Honeywell) education program,” says Rowan. “I started with summer theater in about third or fourth grade. We did ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ and I immediately fell in love with theater.”
 
A friend told Rowan about the Technical Theatre Internship program—another collaboration between the Honeywell Foundation and Heartland Career Center. The program, which has been around for more than a decade, provides a technical training program for students in grades 9-12 who want to learn the art of lighting, rigging, sound production, and more. Students train at the Ford Theatre in the Honeywell Center.

Brenden Rowan is a senior at Wabash High School and plans to go to Ball State in the fall to study theater lighting design.
 
As much as he loved being on stage, Rowan also wanted to learn what went on behind the stage, so he signed up for the program.
 
“Through summer theater, a couple of years ago, we did ‘Newsies’ and I met (Keffaber) and she told me about the Honeywell/Heartland media arts class, as well.”
 
So Rowan signed up for that, too. He has also had the opportunity to work closely with the in-house lighting designer and, when needed, even runs lights for national shows that come through Honeywell’s theaters. When asked what his favorite program has been, Rowan said it would probably have to be the tech internship because that’s what he plans to focus on for his career.
 
“I would love to work on Broadway as a lighting designer,” he says. “I’d also like to work at Disney or even the West End in London,” he says.

Brenden Rowan is a senior at Wabash High School and plans to go to Ball State in the fall to study theater lighting design.
 
While these scenarios currently describe his dream job, that hasn’t always been the case.
 
“My freshman year of high school, I was set on being a doctor,” says Rowan. “I knew that med school was in my future, and then I joined the internship program halfway through my freshman year, and it immediately was a switch. I just knew that theater was it!”
 
When he told his guidance counselors he wanted to do theater, they didn’t have much to offer him. He says he feels lucky to have access to all the programs and resources that have been offered to him through Honeywell Arts & Entertainment.
 
“I’m so grateful to have the Honeywell Foundation in our small community,” Rowan says.

Honeywell Summer Theatre students work on a production of "Newsies."
 
Grace Schoening went to Wabash High School and is currently a sophomore at Ball State studying stage management for theater. She is a former participant in Honeywell’s summer theater program, too. Her first stage manager job was for the show “Newsies” in the summer of 2019 with Rowan. Schoening started the summer theater program originally on the art side and later switched over to theater. She did a little acting in middle school, but didn’t like it at all. She asked if she could volunteer in the scene shop and help build the set. After that, she learned there was an internship program through the Heartland Career Center, and she signed up.
 
Every Thursday, Schoening attended class where she would learn about lights, sound, and the basics of stage production. She also had the opportunity to help with national touring shows. One of the first shows Schoening got to help with was “Jersey Boys” in October 2017, when she was a sophomore in high school. The touring company needed extra hands as prop people. Schoening got to stand backstage and catch stuff as they threw it back to her.
 
“That being my very first (professional theater) experience was amazing.”

Honeywell Summer Theatre students work on a production of "Newsies" in 2019.
 
Schoening says she got to see how connected all the players were, much like a family.
 
“It happened to be the prop master's birthday. A bunch of the actors went and got a little cheesecake and brought it back there for her,” she says. “They were all dancing there together…. It was just a really great experience, and I was like, ‘I would love to do this forever. People get paid to do this?’”
 
Another highlight of Schoening’s Honeywell experiences was in 2018 when the show “Rent” was in town. The company was returning from overseas and kicked off their American dates at the Honeywell Center. Since it was the start of their domestic tour, the production was in Wabash for a week getting the technical aspects of the show perfected.
 
“I got to come in for a lot of that and see the process,” Schoening says.
 
She was part of the set building team, and all of the interns were invited to watch the dress rehearsal. She was the only one who showed up for it.
 
“I ended up getting to talk to the production manager, the cart master, just like a lot of people,” she says. “They were answering all my questions.”
 
Schoening remembers feeling like her career dreams were more real because she got to talk to people who were doing what she wanted to do someday. She is grateful Honeywell made it possible for her to get real-life, hands-on training in high school, so she could be more certain about her career choice before college.
 
“There are just so many opportunities that have come from Honeywell,” she says. “I couldn’t have asked for anything better—anything more.”


Wabash is the focus of a new Partner City series in Input Fort Wayne funded by Visit Wabash County and Honeywell Arts & Entertainment. This series will capture the story of talent, creativity, investment, innovation, and emerging assets shaping the future of Wabash County, about an hour Southwest of Fort Wayne.