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Paul and Linda Leopoulos founded the Thea Foundation in 2001, six months after their seventeen-year-old daughter Thea Kay Leopoulos died in a car accident. The nonprofit foundation’s mission is based on the idea that young people achieve confidence and personal success due to involvement with the arts. The Leopouloses found this to be true of their daughter, and they wanted other young people to benefit from the arts as Thea had.
The Thea Foundation’s scholarship program awards Arkansas high school seniors based on their hard work and artistic talents. The twenty-eight scholarships in the categories of visual and performing arts, short film, creative writing, and poetry slam are not based on test scores or GPAs, nor do the students have to major in art in college. Since its establishment, the program has entered into partnerships with twenty-four public and private colleges that furnish additional funds to the scholarships if the recipient elects to attend that school. By 2010, the program had awarded more than $1.5 million in scholarships to 169 college-bound Arkansas students.
In addition to awarding scholarships, the foundation is engaged in other philanthropic, educational, and outreach activities, such as arts workshops and events, Thea’s Art Closet, and Art Across Arkansas. One of the most successful arts workshops is the Actor’s Workshop, which is for high school juniors and seniors. Actors with Arkansas ties such as Mary Steenburgen, Harry Thomason, and Judge Reinhold have led workshops over the years. Thea’s Art Closet, which is funded by grants and donations, was created to give much-needed supplies to art teachers throughout the state. Since 2006, nearly one million dollars in supplies have been given to 386 schools. Art Across Arkansas, sponsored by the Thea Foundation and the William J. Clinton Foundation, places fine art in schools each school year, with a new exhibit being placed each year. Nearly twenty percent of Arkansas schools have these art installations.
A major focus of the foundation is advocacy for arts-infused curricula for schools, which involves improving students’ learning process by integrating arts into all subjects, including math, science, and social studies. Paul Leopoulos became familiar with this type of instruction when he was delivering an art installation to Hugh Goodwin Elementary School in El Dorado (Union County) and saw the walls covered with student art representing a wide array of educational subjects. The program had come to El Dorado in 2004 by way of the Windgate Foundation, based in Siloam Springs (Benton County), which was inspired by the North Carolina Arts Council’s A+ Schools Program. In February 2012, Leopoulos, along with former president Bill Clinton, announced an expansion of the A+ Program in Arkansas, which the Thea Foundation will help support. By August 2012, there will be twelve Arkansas A+ schools.
The Thea Foundation served as a model for a foundation started in 2009 by Cajun artist George Rodrigue, who is known for his Blue Dog paintings. Like the Thea Foundation, the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts advocates the importance of the visual arts in students’ educational development and encourages the use of art across all curricula.
The Thea Foundation’s Thea Center is located at 401 Main St. in the Argenta District of North Little Rock (Pulaski County). In the Judy Kohn Tenenbaum Gallery, visitors can view art created by students across Arkansas, as well as art from donors to the Art Across Arkansas program. Also included is an exhibit featuring the art of Thea Kay Leopoulos from her junior year of high school. The gallery is open Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday each week or by appointment.
For additional information:Chism, Kitty. “Thea Moments: Can the Arts Really Change Public Education in Arkansas? Paul Leopoulos Plans to Find Out.” Arkansas Life (December 2010): 45–49. Online at http://web.mac.com/paul.leopoulos/About_the_Foundation/THEA_Articles_files/Arkansas%20Life.pdf (accessed January 3, 2012).
Harrison, Eric E. “The Big Picture: Thea Foundation Does Much More Than Dish Out Arts Scholarships.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, November 24, 2010. Online at http://web.mac.com/paul.leopoulos/About_the_Foundation/THEA_Articles_files/The%20BIG%20picture.pdf (accessed January 3, 2012).
Peacock, Leslie Newell. “Arkansas A+ Puts Arts in Academics.” Arkansas Times, January 9, 2013, pp. 14–17. Online at http://www.arktimes.com/arkansas/arkansas-a-puts-art-in-academics/Content?oid=2612751 (accessed January 9, 2013).
Thea Foundation. http://theafoundation.org/ (accessed January 3, 2012).
Williams, Spencer. “Clinton, Thea Group Revive A+ Program.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, February 5, 2012, pp. 1B, 7B.
Ali WelkyEncyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture
Last Updated 1/9/2013
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