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Contributed photo by Walker County Schools / Sophy Tinklepaugh, Zell Coker (back) and Ellie Mae Jones (front), from left, perform at Naomi Elementary School in LaFayette. Artist Susan Cofer is matching funds donated to support the arts at Walker County Schools up to $10,000, and $16,000 has been raised so far including matching funds.

Engaging in the arts almost always involves some sort of hands-on or in-person activity — which makes art education especially difficult for schools during a pandemic.

Local arts supporters are working to make teaching the arts a little easier in Walker County schools by raising funds to purchase art supplies for each student, keeping them from having to share and potentially spread or contract the coronavirus.

To do that, they need to raise $12,000, according to a news release.

Atlanta-based artist Susan Cofer, who has owned a home in Walker County since 1973, is matching every dollar donated up to $10,000.

As of last Thursday, $8,000 had been donated by community members.

A longtime proponent of the arts in Walker County, Cofer for many years paid to send teachers from the county to a program for educators at Atlanta's High Museum of Art, where she also sent many busloads of Walker County students for field trips. Most recently, she arranged, through a partnership with Food City, for art supplies to be delivered to students along with meals while schools were closed this past spring.

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Walker County Schools raising funds for the arts

"In the past I've tried to help the art teachers and the Walker County students on my own, and this year I thought, 'I think I'll see who else in the community is really interested,'" she said, adding that the result thus far has been gratifying. "There have been so many people who've really stepped up to the plate."

Among those is Rachel Oesch Willeford. She is a parent of two Walker County Schools students and president of LaFayette High School's ad hoc council tasked with making sure the school meets designated standards. She's been getting the word out at all the local schools, among which the donated funds will be distributed equally.

In addition to visual arts supplies, the funds will also go toward other arts programs such as dance and music, Oesch Willeford said.

"We believe that art is such an important part of education," she said of local parents and educators. "It's very fundamental that kids actually get to express themselves. We need to try to foster that in children, and we want to show them what's possible."

To make a tax-deductible donation, checks made payable to Walker County Schools can be dropped off at 201 S. Duke St. in LaFayette or mailed to Walker County Schools, P.O. Box 29, LaFayette, GA 30728.

Contact Emily Crisman at ecrisman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6508. Follow her on Twitter @emcrisman.

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