After a year of silence, the Gila Valley Arts Council will again be feeding students’ and residents’ souls with the music of an eclectic group of musicians.

The council, which was formed in 1985, arranges for musicians to perform at local schools and the David M. Player Center for the Arts and conduct classroom workshops and master classes at Eastern Arizona College.

Last year the council had to take a year off due to the pandemic, but now the board is finalizing the 2021 scheduled year of touring musicians.

Paulette LeBlanc, residency chair for the nonprofit, said the council helps Graham and Greenlee county students develop appreciation for the performing arts.

“No other agency is doing this,” she said. “This is important, bringing the arts to the students.”

Grants from multiple funding sources such as Graham and Greenlee United Way, the Arizona Commission of the Arts and the Arizona Community Foundation enable the council to hire roughly five different traveling performing groups a year. Depending on the year, the traveling performers may include a string quartet or a concert pianist from Russia.

The upcoming 2021 schedule, which will run from October through March, will include performances from the string group The Fitzgeralds, The Brothers Four (a folk revival group) and Mariachi Apache.

In 2019, nearly 3,000 students from 12 schools were treated to performances and more than 500 attended performances at the fine arts center, she said.

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Chip Cheney, arts council education liaison and social media expert, is an orchestra director for the Safford Unified School District and has seen first hand the impact the program has on students.

“My students get so inspired and keep working hard,” he said.

Several years ago a string quartet named The Black Oak Ensemble visited the Safford School District, he said. The interaction between the students and the performers was amazing and the group was impressed with how many students were studying string instruments, considering the size the community, he said.

“I think the one reason our string program is doing so well is because the Gila Valley Arts Council brings in these inspirational artists,” he said. “I hope it can continue blessing the lives of the students and gets more community members to see the performances.”

Tom Green, president of the council, joined the nonprofit in 1991 after attending a harp performance through the council because he wanted to support the arts.

“I take pride in the simple fact that the children in our community deserve to listen to the high-quality musicians and to see them perform,” he said. “We try to bring them something to expand their horizons.”

There aren’t many opportunities for local residents to view these types of performances and more people should really take advantage, Green said.

“There is a quote, and it says, ‘Life continually beats down the soul, art reminds us that we have one,’” he said. “After I go to one of these shows, it feels like it’s feeding my spirit.”

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