Great Programs Start with Listening and Learning: Interview with Ploi Pagdalian from A4L Indiana

At Arts for Learning Indiana, some programming begins with great fanfare. Such is the case with Ensuring the Arts for Any Given Child, in which the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has chosen Indianapolis as a partner city. The program will create a long-range arts education plan suited to the needs of local students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Ploi Pagdalian was part of the working group that put the Indianapolis proposal together, which included the Arts Council of Indianapolis, Indianapolis Public Schools, and Arts for Learning and other Central Indiana arts organizations.
Other programming at the Young Audiences affiliate evolves in more organic ways. According to Ploi, the 2015 initiative Fresh StART Indy started with a "let's see how it goes" approach. The program, in partnership with the Indianapolis Department of Metropolitan Development, engages with a school or community to create public art projects in abandoned spaces, helping to improve neighborhood safety. “It was exhilarating because we were learning while running, and the results have been amazing. We weren’t determined to create a specific production or to paint a mural. The outcome wasn’t forced in any way. All the possibilities were in front of us, and we were guided by the aspirations of the group.”
As Ploi tells it, Arts for Learning prides itself on being an organization of fierce learners. “We always want to learn more – not just for the sake of learning, but to understand better what a community or school needs. Our strength is in our teaching artists and the arts, so that’s what we bring to the table, but we don’t come with a solution in hand. We want to walk through the process with our partners and arrive at a solution together.”
When Ploi (see image left) joined Arts for Learning in 2002, she expected to stay for two years, which was the length of the grant for her position. Her background was in early childhood education, and she was intrigued by the idea of an arts organization devoting resources to bring artists into preschool centers. She planned to spend her short term exploring the impact professional artists can make on early childhood providers and on better preparing young children for kindergarten.
That two-year job has stretched and changed into a career, where Ploi now has the ability and opportunity to design programs, alongside her programming colleagues Cassandra Thomas and Angela Yetter. “I find designing programs to be exciting because it involves a lot of players and gets me into the community during my research phase. There’s a lot of listening and prodding to discover what a school might be needing or lacking, and whether Arts for Learning is a good fit to fulfill those needs,” Ploi says.
With her hands-on knowledge of developing arts integrated programming, and her long tenure, Ploi is now becoming more involved in initiatives within the Young Audiences network. She also sees a personal benefit from regular webinars and other contact with affiliates. “We’re such a small staff in Indiana that I really appreciate having people in the network to talk to for ideas, problem-solving, and what have you,” she says. “With my connection to Young Audiences affiliates around the nation, I feel like I have colleagues everywhere.”

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