By MANDY STANAGE SHOPTAW | Photography by RETT PEEK
Art comes in many forms — from painting and poetry to acting and singing. Research indicates a correlation between the arts and a student’s personal and academic success. As many schools are faced with tighter budgets, less money is allocated for art supplies and creative opportunities that nurture students. The Thea Foundation bridges that funding gap and advocates for arts in education as a critical component in every child’s life. Malvern National Bank Chief Credit Officer Rusty Guerra will welcome guests to Blue Plate Special, an event celebrating artists and providing support for Thea Foundation’s continued mission fulfillment work.
“I look forward to the food every year at the Blue Plate Special. It never disappoints, though I’m sometimes frustrated by the size of the plates and being limited to two hands,” jokes Rusty. The menu boasts light bites from some the Capitol City’s most esteemed chefs. Rusty notes that attendees enjoy the casual vibe and the opportunity to mingle with premier Arkansas artists that represent a variety of genres.
“The Capital Hotel’s mezzanine is the perfect setting to enjoy revelry with our special guest artists,” notes Thea Foundation Director of Communications Amanda Seevers of this year’s local celebrities including photographer Nancy Nolan, musician Rodney Block, singer Bijoux Pighee and designer Bryant Phelan. “For entertainment, we are thrilled to have longtime Thea supporter Dr. Danny Fletcher, former board of directors president, perform with his very talented jazz band.”
Proceeds from the evening support the Thea Foundation’s arts education programming including Thea’s Art Closet, which provides art supplies and creative materials to Arkansas teachers as well as Arts Reconstruction, which helps improve and create arts programming during the school day in districts across the state.
“The foundation’s support of the arts and education touch two key areas that contribute greatly to a community’s quality of life,” Rusty says as he reflects on the impact art and education has had on his own family. “My mother, Glenda Guerra, taught school for over 30 years and my daughter, Caroline Guerra Wolf, completed a two year stint with Teach for America, so I have a keen appreciation for teachers and their lifelong impact on students. I also know how limited the school budgets are for art activities, but believe that we neglect these at our peril.”
Linda and Paul Leopoulos established the foundation after the untimely death of their daughter, Thea Kay, in 2001. The family noticed that Thea excelled academically, socially and emotionally as a result of her artistic pursuits. This revelation is at the heart of the Thea Foundation. Rusty serves on the Thea Foundation Board of Directors and believes everyone can play a part in the organization’s advocacy work. “I went to a few events and was hooked once I attended a Slam Poetry scholarship competition. It’s an easy mission to get behind.”