Jakob Spruce is the Upshur County Schools Fine Arts Facilitator and has been working on many projects to engage Upshur County students in learning about and participating in arts experiences. / Submitted photo

School system’s new fine arts facilitator hopes to introduce the same experiences that nurtured his love of the arts to students in Upshur County

BUCKHANNON – Jakob Spruce said when he was in high school, the West Virginia Dance Company came to his school to perform, and one of the pieces the troupe performed made a huge impact on him.

In fact, it is at the forefront of his mind still today as he begins his new position as fine arts facilitator for Upshur County Schools.

“They performed an approximate eight-minute piece without music – it was completely silent – and I had never seen a dance piece done without music before,” Spruce told My Buckhannon this week. “To have people physically in the same room with you and performing this movement – with no words and no music – it was such a unique and interesting way to do art that I had never thought of before. It is always with me. Since then, I have grown to know the person who choreographed it; he taught my tap dance class in college.”

Spruce recently accepted the newly established fine arts facilitator position, and in that role, his goal is to help students in Upshur County have some of these same unique arts experiences, learn about, and appreciate visual and performing arts.

Spruce is a West Virginia Wesleyan College graduate with a degree in technical theater.

“Over the past few years, I have worked professionally in theater and opera,” Spruce said. “This was both in West Virginia and New York.”

He said he applied for the fine arts facilitator position at Upshur County Schools this past summer while he was working in New York.

“I had been jumping from gig to gig, and I saw this position was open,” he said. “It was a year-round position, which is very unusual for the arts. I thought with this position, I had the opportunity to be engaged with the education system and create new opportunities we usually do not get here in West Virginia, especially for students.”

Spruce said arts education was very important to him while growing up.

“I came into the arts while in middle and high school,” he said. “I attended Capital High School in Charleston, which is sort of the magnet school for performing arts. The teachers I met there sort of shaped who I am today. Without them, I do not think I would have considered arts as a career. I feel having this position may allow me to also have that impact on the students.”

Since Spruce attended WVWC, he was familiar with the arts culture of Upshur County.

“The arts here are not just an isolated thing,” Spruce said. “Many of the opportunities we have come from really deep collaboration throughout the community. Even the shows that happen on the WVWC campus engage local businesses and local artists to help out with those. In developing the new Colonial Arts Center, the whole project is a collaboration between the City of Buckhannon, the Upshur County School system, ART26201, West Virginia Wesleyan College and many individuals from the community who volunteer their time to help.”

“This collaboration is a unique thing about Buckhannon; we do not really see things like this in larger places,” he added. “A lot of the arts we get here are down to the people, and that is really special.”

Spruce said in his position he will be developing and facilitating arts experiences for the Buckhannon-Upshur and Upshur County Schools communities.

“That may include bringing a dance company to Buckhannon-Upshur High School for a performance or creating after-school classes for students at the Colonial Arts Center,” he said. “I am in charge of working between different organizations to facilitate different arts experiences.”

Recently, Spruce started featuring students at Buckhannon-Upshur High School Fine Arts Students of the Week showcase. Other projects he said he will be working on include developing an after-school theater program at Buckhannon-Upshur Middle School.

“This is with Project Isaac and starting in January, we will be working on a new play and will have performances for the public,” Spruce said. “At the high school level, we will be having the West Virginia Dance Company coming in November to do a new piece based on the play ‘Macbeth.’ I hope in the future to bring in more groups such as the Rustic Mechanicals — the West Virginia Shakespeare Troupe from Clarksburg. I also have been talking with the Augusta Heritage Center over at Davis & Elkins College. They do a lot of work with folk artists – specifically Appalachian folk artists – and I feel a collaboration with them would be very interesting for us.”

Spruce believes the arts need to be a collaborative experience and making that happen should never fall onto one person’s shoulders.

“It is important to me that we not only have the support of the students in the schools but also their parents and community members,” he said. “We need not only big organizations such as WVWC or St. Joseph’s Hospital, but also the support of those people walking down Main Street and the people who live in Rock Cave and Tennerton. Arts are not just something that should be isolated. Everyone should get to experience the arts.”

Spruce said he appreciates the fact that arts experiences enhance learning in all arenas, and he thinks there has been a big push – especially in the past two years – for STEAM learning, which incorporates the arts and is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics-based learning.

“I know the West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture and History has created a lot of grant opportunities specific for STEAM-based projects Spruce said. “I see the arts as something that complements other disciplines. In the arts, there is much more to do than just act on stage. While doing lighting, you learn the science and you learn the equations, along with artistic talent.”

“I am about showing students there is a world of possibilities in the arts, whether it is something you want to pursue for the rest of your life or whether it is something you want to go and observe,” he said.

Spruce may be contacted by emailing jakob.spruce@k12.wv.us.

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