The name-Sun Foundation For Advancement in the Environmental Sciences & Arts-says it all. For the past 30 years, professional artists Joan Root Ericksen and Robert Ericksen have demonstrated remarkable persistence in their efforts to support the arts and the world around us through their foundation.
"The Sun Foundation was formed in response to community needs," Root Ericksen said. "During the late 1960s, there was limited public access to the arts and environmental education. Artists had limited access to schools, community centers, other artists, and professionals working in other disciplines. The arts and environmental education weren't an essential part of elementary and secondary curriculum; most elementary schools didn't even have an art curriculum or an art teacher. There was a need for an organizational structure to foster new talents and audiences for the arts and integrate the arts into other disciplines. There was also a need to foster cooperation between artists, scientists, arts groups, businesses, schools, and the community."
In response to those needs, the Ericksens and other volunteer artists worked together to present arts programs for underserved, inner city youth from 1969 to 1972. "In 1972, the Illinois Arts Council suggested forming a public foundation to gather support for ongoing expanded programming," Root Ericksen said. "The Sun Foundation was named for the sun-the symbol of creative energy."
Over the years, a number of programs have been implemented. Two of the better known programs include Art & Science in the Woods and the Sun Foundation Suzuki School of Music. "In 1974, Art & Science in the Woods, an annual summer program for students and underserved youth, was established, integrating the arts and natural sciences and taught by professionals. The program also established the Sun Foundation art and nature center at Blue Heron Farms in the Illinois River valley in rural Marshall County, which is donated for use by local farmers," she said.
Art & Science in the Woods provides a hands-on experience in subjects of each participant's choice. The courses are divided into major and minor classes. Major classes from the 2004 session included Aboriginal Arts and Wilderness Skills, Blast Off, Brazil-A Rhythmic Journey, Clay, Drawing With Brushes/Painting With Pencils, Getting Familiar With Reptiles, "I Am Sending a Voice"/Native American Drums, Learning the Stories of the Land, Move Like a Shadow, NTV-Nature Television, Rocket Science in the Woods, Sculpture, Sculpting and Drawing From the Natural World, Treasure Hunt For the Past, Watercolor in the Woods, Wandering Waters, and 1890s Melodrama.
Minor classes included ASW Challenge Course, Build/Launch Rockets, Camouflage, Clay Day, Drawing From the Natural World, Drums Must Never Stop, Earth Songs, Ensemble-Team Building Games for Actors, Exploring Bubbles, Fossils and Rocks, Kit Rockets, Kites and Flights, Marsh Gymnastics, Medicine Wheel, Native American Fun & Games, Reptiles, Sculpture, Story to Stage, Storytelling Drum, Tie Dye & Such, Watch the Birdie, and Watercolor & Drawing Techniques.
The Sun Foundation Suzuki School of Music, a certified Suzuki violin and viola program, is a program for students ages three to adult. Root Ericksen said, "In early 1979, the Sun Foundation brought Dr. Shinichi Suzuki's Children's Symphony Orchestra of Japan to Peoria to perform and demonstrate their music education method to our community. In fall 1979, the Sun Foundation began the school of music in Peoria. Violin and viola instruction is in the manner of the Talent Education Institute of Matsumoto, Japan, as envisioned by Dr. Suzuki, and classes are taught by certified Suzuki teachers. This year, 83 students and 63 adults will participate, and an additional 600 people will attend the school's community performances. More than 6,480 have been served by the program since it began."
Suzuki music instruction helps the student develop in many ways including listening, motor skills, use of right-left brain, self-esteem, poise, and love of music, she said. "The lessons expose the child to the instruments, rhythm, singing of folk songs, works of famous composers, and public performances. To quote Dr. Suzuki, 'We don't create concert musicians; we help to create well-rounded people that happen to play beautiful music.'"
The method came about in the 1920s, when Suzuki went to Berlin for further instruction on the violin. While struggling to learn the German language, he had the first ideas that led to the development of his "mother tongue" theory. Suzuki noted that children all over the world learn to speak their mother tongue with ease, no matter how complicated it might be. They learn to speak by listening-primarily to parents and other caregivers-and then imitating their language. He felt the same steps involved in language learning could also be applied to his method.
Root Ericksen said parents are an integral part of the Suzuki method, and they're expected to attend lessons and become the instructor at home. "Parents must be willing to provide patience, time, and love to help in their child's growth. Beginning instruction consists of private/partner lessons with another family. In group lessons, children learn from watching each other and playing together."
The Clean Water Celebration/Environmental Classroom is another major Sun Foundation initiative. The education and public awareness community program for middle and high school students and teachers takes place at the Peoria Civic Center each year. According to the Ericksens, more than 20,000 students and members of the general public have attended the events, and three states have adopted the program. "Clean Water draws students to a sharing presentation in water quality with 500 River Project students, scientists, business professionals, artists, and nationally known leaders. Former U.S. EPA Region 5 Director Val Adamkus called the program 'the most important environmental classroom in the United States and perhaps the world,'" Root Ericksen said.
Other Sun Foundation programs include the regranting of community arts access funds, a Traditional Arts/Blacksmithing Apprentice Program, field trips, Arts in Education, teacher training, and conferences and seminars.
All of this has resulted in some very substantial figures. "To date, the work of the Foundation has touched the lives of more than 4.4 million people through programs, artist residencies, teacher training, fine art curriculum development for elementary schools, performances, exhibits, conferences, lectures, artist symposiums, master classes, summer arts programs, after school art programs, technical assistance, publications, regranting, and public broadcasting," she said. "More than 11,500 artists and scientists have been contracted for programs. A total of $4.7 million in funds have been raised through public contributions and grants, expended to improve the quality of education, and returned to the economy of our community."
The Sun Foundation's list of awards is extensive, but more important than the recognition is the continuation of the original dream and the collaboration of others who've joined the cause. "A third generation of students is now attending the programs," Root Ericksen said. "Many first generation students are now the artists and scientists who teach in Sun Foundation programs. The past 30 years have been made possible by the Illinois Arts Council, National Endowment for the Arts, State Board of Education, volunteers, and supporters. And in 2002, we began an endowment campaign to ensure the Sun Foundation continues for future generations." AA!