Illinois State University’s Illinois Art Station announced a $45,000 grant from the PNC Foundation to benefit Redbirds Rising: The Campaign for Illinois State that provides funding for Illinois Art Station’s Itsy Studio: In the Community program. The grant money, part of PNC’s Grow Up Great®, will be distributed to the program over two years. Illinois Art Station is a collaboration between Illinois State’s College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Fine Arts.

Itsy Studio: In the Community was inspired by artist residencies in public schools in New York, Chicago, and California. Itsy Studio curriculum is designed to help children:

  1. Develop and improve social-emotional learning skills, as well as creative and critical thinking skills and habits.
  2. Recognize and communicate emotions through transformative, hands-on weekly visual art lessons.
  3. Observe, solve, reflect, communicate, and think like an artist.

The program enables a dedicated Early Childhood Teaching Artist and graduate students from Illinois State University’s School of Art to teach children ages three to five at Heartland Head Start and Sarah E. Raymond School of Early Education. Itsy Studio aims to reach more than 600 students across the two sites at the end of two years.

Seventy-nine percent of Sarah E. Raymond School of Early Education’s 340 students qualify for District 87’s free and reduced meal program, and 100 percent of students in Sarah Raymond’s Preschool for All program qualify for early childhood education based on state of Illinois guidelines.

“We are already at work addressing our students’ needs with a curriculum geared towards their social-emotional development. We see the Itsy Program as a great compliment to and reinforcement of our current model,” Sarah E. Raymond School of Early Education Principal Danel Behrends-Harr said.

One hundred percent of Heartland Head Start’s student population meets federal income guidelines for eligibility and 18 percent are bilingual. “The new initiative will give our students advantages they otherwise would not be able to access,” said Mary Lou Nelson, children and family service specialist for Heartland Head Start.

“Research shows that children who participate in high-quality preschool programs are more likely to be successful in school and contribute to society later in life,” said Jenna Cicciarelli Wiesner PNC’s vice president, director of client and community relations for Central Illinois. “Illinois Art Station’s Itsy Studio was a good fit for a Grow Up Great grant because it will increase children’s access to high-quality educational opportunities at a young age.”

Not only will the grant allow Itsy Studio to reach area students, but it also creates a new position within Illinois Art Station: an Early Childhood Teaching Artist. This position will teach all of the students in the Itsy Studio program and will also lead professional development workshops to enrich and develop sustainable visual art practices in the classroom.

The Itsy Studio also provides an environment for scholarly research on early childhood development and psychology. Julie Campbell, an assistant professor in psychology at Illinois State plans to study the relation between children’s hand preference and fine motor skills. “This information can be used to explore further research questions that examine the link between fine motor skills and other cognitive abilities, such as language,” Campbell said.

The PNC Foundation, which receives its principal funding from The PNC Financial Services Group, actively supports organizations that provide services for the benefit of communities in which it has a significant presence. The foundation focuses its philanthropic mission on early childhood education and community and economic development, which includes the arts and culture. Through Grow Up Great, its signature cause that began in 2004, PNC has created a bilingual $500 million, multi-year initiative to help prepare children from birth to age 5 for success in school and life.

Support during the Redbirds Rising campaign promotes scholarship, leadership, and innovation at Illinois State. To learn more about Illinois Art Station, visit To follow the success of the Redbirds Rising campaign and to contribute today, visit