Karen Thickstun

You never know the power of saying “yes.” At least that’s what Karen Thickstun learned in 2002 when she accepted a newly created position at Butler University as director of the Community Arts School. Since then, Thickstun has been responsible for providing thousands of Indianapolis-area residents age 5 and up with music and arts lessons they wouldn’t have had access to otherwise.

Last year alone, she oversaw private lessons, group lessons and summer camps for more than 2,000 students. Saying “yes” is now a piece of advice she shares with college students when they consider participation in the program. “You can be important in the life of a child,” she said. “You’ll never know, right now, what aspect of what you’re doing that they will remember or be influenced by.”

Butler Community Arts School has active, year-round collaborative relationships with 15 community partners, including public, private and charter schools, United Way agencies, community centers and the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra. Partnerships include after-school lessons at community sites, joint performances and projects and ongoing collaboration to promote arts education to constituent families. Every program is available regardless of what a family can afford.

“There are more barriers besides financial aid to making the arts accessible,” Thickstun shared. “Location, transportation and working parents all became factors when we considered the heart of our mission statement – ‘Broad access to the arts while meeting community needs.’”

Today, Thickstun finds inspiration in students of all ages. She is inspired by children who never thought they could learn to play an instrument, let alone attend college. She loves when students graduate from college and return to Butler to teach at a summer program for the next generation of music students.

“Butler students have embraced the idea of connecting with youth,” Thickstun said. “They share with youth what music or the arts has meant to them.”

Last year, 134 Butler students served as teaching fellows. Thickstun marvels at the transformative relationships and bonds formed between the college students and their pupils. “Arts inspire,” she said. “Unlike many disciplines, the arts are accessible at any age, any ability and any background. Everyone can participate and the possibilities are endless.”