Cultivating top talent
At the Alabama School of Fine Arts, students hone their talents with a tuition-free education
By Jeana Durst, content director, JBMC Media
Photos courtesy of Beau Gustafson for ASFA
The mission of the Alabama School of Fine Arts (ASFA), a diverse community of explorers, is to nurture impassioned students by guiding and inspiring them to discover and fulfill their individual creative abilities in an atmosphere distinguished by the fusion of fact and feeling, risk and reward, art and science, school and society.
Students at ASFA strive for excellence in the arts and sciences in one of these six areas: creative writing, dance, math-science, music, theatre arts, and visual arts. Included in the curriculum are comprehensive core academic classes that complement the pre-professional arts education.
With a faculty that includes many working artists, the school provides students a well-rounded, rich educational experience. For example, visual arts chair and alumni Darius Hill recently installed a sculpture at the Birmingham Museum of Art; creative writing faculty Kwoya Fagin-Maples and Ashley M. Jones (also an alum) both published award-winning books; and former music chair and current Director of Student Support Services Kim Strickland (Scott) reached #1 on the Billboard charts for her song and top album in smooth jazz.
The Historical Perspective
The Alabama School of Fine Arts is a junior and senior high school located in the heart of downtown Birmingham. It was created by the legislature in 1971 to provide tuition-free instruction for talented and gifted students from throughout the state. ASFA’s roots began in the 1950s and 1960s when various Birmingham parents and arts advocates appealed to state leaders about the need for a school for students interested in the arts. Then Gov. Lurleen Wallace responded with an August 24, 1967, proclamation of the Alabama High School for the Fine Arts (AHSFA) pilot program and a discretionary start-up grant of $10,000. On August 31, 1971, the legislature passed a joint resolution establishing the school, with a board of directors and yearly funding in the education department’s budget. The school added a math-science specialty department in the 1990s.
ASFA is a public school, and admission is by application. Each of the six specialty departments has distinct application requirements. The performing arts applicants are generally required to share a video and then an audition, while math-science applicants must submit an essay and transcripts, followed by on-site testing and a group interview. Creative writing and visual arts applicants require a portfolio submission and an on-site portfolio evaluation with a still life drawing or a writing prompt, depending on the focus.
Students of Note
· James Shi, Akshat Yaparla, Carol He, Sofia Rabbani, and William Holland, members of the Science Bowl team, came in 1st and 2nd place in state competitions this year, and the first-place winning team headed to Washington DC in March to compete at Nationals on an all-expenses-paid trip from the US Dept. of Energy.
· Rachel Lockhart and Haley Winegarden, two 2019 dance graduates, now attend The Juilliard School, an extremely competitive program where only 14 spots are awarded for dancers each year.
· Le’ronnie Bussey, a current dance student, was just accepted to Juilliard’s summer program.
· Daniel Blokh, one of ASFA’s creative writing students, was named one of just 5 National Student Poets and traveled the nation as a literary ambassador (he started at Yale this year).
· Kah’lin Jordan, along with other recent grads, will be performing at Carnegie Hall for the second time this summer as members of the National Youth Orchestra 2.
The 71 graduates of the Class of 2019 (the biggest class to date) earned more than $11.8 million in college scholarships. Ninety-seven percent of the seniors won merit scholarships, compared to the national average of 15%. The 2019 class received admission offers from 137 colleges, universities, art schools, and conservatories, located throughout the United States including The Juilliard School, Yale University, Brown University, Columbia University, The Cooper Union, and Carnegie Mellon.
The ASFA Board of Trustees completed an executive director search last fall. Dr. Tim Mitchell, coming from Virginia, will be starting on July 1. This school year, Ann Florie has served as the school’s interim executive director. She is a renowned Birmingham leader who recently retired from Leadership Birmingham.