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Bringing Art to Life

For the past three years, ASPiRE students have been privileged to work with Erin Thomas-Foley, education director for the Performing Arts in the Richmond Community (SPRAC) and SPARC students through the Live Arts program.

The Live Arts Program is designed to teach students with special needs and without to dance, act and sing, as well as how to work together as a team. According to Thomas-Foley, at one time, having special needs students participate in SPARC was just a dream due to a lack of staff.

The ASPiRE students volunteer twice a week as assistants with the 20-week Live Arts program. The program culminates with a public concert produced and directed by SPARC, which features SPARC students and professional recording artists. Last year’s artist lineup included Grammy award-winner Mandy Moore, 2015 Grammy nominee René Marie (jazz vocalist) and other artists.

The final show is generally a sold-out performance at the Altria or Carpenter Center. SPARC’s Live Art program has become so well known that two local filmmakers made a documentary chronicling the experience of several students and instructors in the program.

”My main goal is to help develop young people who are compassionate and accepting of others,” Thomas-Foley said. “If I can make this happen, I’ve really done something great.”

Thomas-Foley received a master’s degree from Virginia Commonwealth University. She has also acted in local theater productions. For more information about volunteering with SPARC, contact Grady Hart at