As our friends at the Thea Foundation reimagine Into the Blue 2021 – An Online Experience, it’s important to realize the invaluable resources the organization provides to students throughout the state and the importance of arts education. We’re sharing features from our archives that reflect the mission fulfillment work of the Thea Foundation with urgency for continued support.
October 2018 Issue – Thea Foundation Executive Director Nick Leopoulos
By Rebekah Hall | Photography by Rett Peek
These are a few of Nick’s favorite things: Thea Foundation, fabulous food, delicious drinks and live music. He brings these together for Blue Plate Special, a fun evening that celebrates Thea Foundation’s continued commitment to arts in education and encourages guests to become advocates for its power to transform lives.
Nick Leopoulos serves as Thea Foundation Assistant Director – working with teachers, art educators and students throughout the state to develop art programming that’s changing the landscape of education in Arkansas. He recognizes that incorporating arts education into the classroom creates a better environment for students to learn. “A creative atmosphere in a school is one of openness and trustworthiness, and it’s a much better condition,” Nick explains. “It sets the stage for learning at a higher order, and we certainly want to be contributors to that.”
Paul Leopoulos and his wife Linda established the organization after the untimely death of their daughter, Thea Kay, whose exposure to the arts dramatically improved her academics. Nick wants all children to experience the life-changing effects that arts involvement had in his sister’s life. Thea Foundation Marketing Director Stacey Bowers explains that the goal of the foundation is for every child in Arkansas to have what Paul calls the “Thea Experience.” “It’s something that we want every kid in Arkansas to be able to experience, especially to gain confidence for the things they want to be in life,” Stacey emphasizes.
The Blue Plate Special invites guests to mingle with incredible chefs, local celebrities and talented mixologists as they cook and create alongside other artists and musicians. “It’s a wonderful way of getting involved with who we are as an organization, and you’re just going to have the most fun doing it,” Nick explains. “It’s incredible wine, incredible food, and you’re open to some of the best conversations you’re going to have with some of the most vibrant personalities in the city.”
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, and Arts Reconstruction, which helps to augment or generate new arts programming during the school day in school districts across the state. “One thing I’m really proud about this organization for is when we succeed in things like fundraisers or endowments, then we grow those programs,” Stacey notes. “When we see the need, we grow our foundation to accommodate growing those programs.”
Both Nick and Stacey express appreciation for Malvern National Bank, a longtime Blue Plate Special sponsor, and this year’s Event Chairman Ben E. Keith Foods General Manager Rusty Mathis, who played a large role in the Blue Plate Special’s original conception. Nick best sums up the special evening: “It’s a great foot in the door to what our organization is all about – helping bring people together and supporting creative initiatives, getting people talking and expanding their outlook on education in the state.”
November 2018 Issue
Thea Foundation Co-Founder Paul Leopoulos
By Renarda A. Williams | Photography by Rett Peek
For nearly two decades, Thea Foundation has cultivated the education through strategic partnerships and true tenacity. After the untimely death of their daughter, Linda and Paul Leopoulos established Thea Foundation to provide the “Thea Experience” to Arkansas students. “We learned after losing our daughter Thea, that her participation in the arts had a direct relationship to her confidence as it did with both of our sons. The more we learned about the high-impact of using the arts and creativity in our schools to impact students no matter what their interests or their path could have it occurred to us that if we did a good job to help people understand what we now understand that it could make a huge difference in our community. So passing this concept forward that we learn from our children’s experiences seemed like the right thing to do,” Paul notes.
Currently, Thea Foundation focuses on three main programs:
Thea Scholarships These scholarships are awarded annually to young Arkansans and based solely on talent. Scholarships are often matched by almost every 4-year college and many 2-year colleges in Arkansas. To date, Arkansas students have received more than $2.3 million in Thea Scholarships.
Thea’s Art Closet Thea’s Art Closet helps Arkansas teachers get supplies necessary to incorporate the arts into classroom curriculum. This program has provided more than $1.65 million in grants and matching grants for arts supplies to more than 575 schools across the state.
Arts Reconstruction This program partners with cultural institutions and arts organizations to provide new and improve existing arts programming in Arkansas schools. It includes several elective string music programs at elementary, middle and high schools as well as a UA Little Rock partnership that provides visual arts technique training for public school educators.
As Thea Foundation continues its advocacy work in Arkansas, its results are measurable – 17 Arkansas public and charter schools have adopted the Thea Foundation arts-integrated, whole-school reform model, Arkansas A+ Schools. Paul insists it’s the dedication of his small but mighty team that makes the work possible. “The fact is that our staff has the most amazing attitude and is so dedicated to the vision and mission of our foundation. In a way it is so surprising to me to find individuals this capable and motivated. The foundation is totally blessed to have Nick Leopoulos, Stacey Bowers, Nancy Martin and Jennifer Owens who give so much of themselves and treat their jobs as an extremely high priority in their lives. The Board of Directors and Linda and I love and respect them all.”