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Rolando Pizana and Access the Arts

Through Music Lessons and Book Clubs, Medina Nonprofit Encourages Access to the Arts

Musician Rolando Pizana facilitates half-hour group instrumental lessons for current residents of the detention center. Photo courtesy of Rolando Pizana and Jane Back.Once a week, accomplished musician Rolando Pizana enters the Medina County Juvenile Detention Center (MCJDC) with more than 10 instruments in tow.

Eager to share his love of music, Pizana facilitates half-hour group instrumental lessons for current residents of the detention center. For many of these residents, opportunities for arts education can be difficult to come by, but thanks to Pizana and new Ohio Arts Council (OAC) grantee Access the Arts, residents are now able to connect over shared arts experiences.  

Access the Arts is a certified nonprofit organization founded in 2018 by Jane Back. The efforts of this organization, now supported by an OAC ArtSTART grant, enrich and unite communities through the arts with a specific focus on communities with significant barriers to arts engagement. 

In its early days, Access the Arts would host free outdoor concerts in Sharon Center, located in Medina County, but it has now expanded its outreach, bringing music to juvenile residents of MCJDC.  

The longing to bring art, music, and literature to youth came from Back’s personal experience as a language arts teacher of more than 20 years. 

“What I see happening as I work with struggling readers is that they are the ones who are the artists. They are the ones who are more right-brained, conceptual thinkers. They really crave music and art,” Back said.  

Back was already leading a book club for MCJDC residents when the idea to bring music into the space came to her. Back reached out to Pizana, a fellow teacher and accomplished musician.

“Rolando always says ‘yes.’ He says, ‘Yes, I’ll do it, I’ll do it. He has some great ideas himself, and the energy of a 20-year-old,” Back said. “So, when we started working with the detention center a few years ago, he volunteered right away and just really fell in love with working with that group.”

In its early days, Access the Arts would host free outdoor concerts in Sharon Center, located in Medina County, but it has now expanded its outreach, bringing music to juvenile residents of MCJDC. Photo courtesy of Rolando Pizana and Jane Back.After a few mini concerts, the effort evolved into a more interactive way of learning, with Pizana teaching 30-minute instrumental lessons for all residents of MCJDC. It was then that Back applied for and received the OAC’s ArtSTART grant. Funds were awarded to the group for the purchase of instruments, as well as the instructor’s fee.  

“When you can get the students to open up and really see what they can do, it’s like a freeing of their soul, and that’s something that’s unique,” Back said. 

Pizana and Back both cherish the opportunity to see the benefits of arts education come to fruition through their efforts to engage in conversations surrounding music and literature.

“During our book clubs, we would read and discuss meaningful young adult novels,” Back said, explaining that a recent book the group has read was Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience by Laura Hillenbrand. The book tells the true story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner who became a hero during World War II.  

“It was so gratifying to hear their comments of admiration for the qualities of the soldier in the book,” Back said. “His story of hardship and sacrifice touched them and really made them reflect on what is important in their own lives.  After reading it, most of them asked for the sequel and read it on their own. We were happy to provide it for them.” 

Pizana said he observes the impact of his lessons through the eyes of an educator and friend.  

“I get to see the emotional and cognitive effect it has on them. The music is helping them … to be open-minded—not guarded, but free,” Pizana said. “What I’ve seen, most importantly, is the joy that they have when the instrument is in their hands.” 


ABOUT THE OHIO ARTS COUNCIL
The Ohio Arts Council is a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically. Connect with the OAC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or visit our website at oac.ohio.gov.

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Article by Cassie Rea, 2020-21 Arts Administration Fellow
Featured photo courtesy of Rolando Pizana and Jane Back, Access the Arts



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