Cambridge Matignon plans new conservatory-style arts instruction

CAMBRIDGE -- The Cambridge Matignon School prides itself on offering an experiential, project-based curriculum that connects students with the world outside the school. Now, they are taking that approach a step further by establishing a new program: the Cambridge Arts Academy.

Utilizing the school's position in a center of arts and higher education, the Cambridge Arts Academy will give students opportunities to study the arts in a conservatory-style model, in partnership with world-class organizations in their own neighborhood.

"I tell people that we're the luckiest Catholic school in the country because of where we're located, and we're really trying to take advantage of that," said Cambridge Matignon Headmaster Timothy Welsh in a Sept. 24 interview.

The goal of the Cambridge Arts Academy, he said, will be to offer advanced instruction in the arts within a traditional Catholic college preparatory environment.

That kind of model "doesn't really exist right now," Welsh said.

"We want to give opportunities to students that traditionally they haven't had until they go beyond high school. We want to bring those opportunities into the high school years," he added.

Like many high schools, Cambridge Matignon School already offers some extracurricular activities in the arts, such as music and visual art electives, theatre productions, and showcase opportunities. But Welsh said the Cambridge Arts Academy will expand the amount, intensity, and quality of their offerings.

"I think it's particularly important for Catholic schools to be investing in the arts for students," he said, adding that "for students who have passions in the arts, we really want to help foster those passions."

The Cambridge Arts Academy will do this by forming partnerships with local organizations to offer tracks in different artistic disciplines, such as dance, visual arts, and vocal and instrumental performance. Students enrolled in these programs would come for a traditional school day, then stay after school three or four days a week to work with instructors.

The first of these tracks will be A.R.T. at Matignon, a partnership with American Repertory Theatre at Harvard University. This track will be offered for the first time during the 2022-2023 academic year, with A.R.T. artists and Harvard professors training students in different aspects of the performing arts. Guest artists would hold special workshops based on A.R.T.'s upcoming productions, keeping them connected with the community.

In an Oct. 4 interview, Brenna Nicely, A.R.T.'s education and engagement director, talked about how the program aligns with A.R.T.'s own mission to "expand the boundaries of theatre," working with their audience as a partner in the creative process. She said they have worked with this age group in the past, but not in a format like this.

Students in A.R.T. at Matignon will receive training in a variety of theatre skills, including acting, costume design, and set design, "to make sure that they have an understanding of the discipline as a whole," Nicely said.

She said they are also invested in creating an "environment of equitable learning" across their community, providing opportunities for organizations with resources to help those who have fewer resources for developing content or instruction.

"For us, it's beneficial to start to put together partnerships like this in order to expand our impact across our communities," Nicely said.

She said the program will not just be about training students that want to become professional performers. A.R.T. also wants to "tap into personal creativity" and help students develop their identities.

"We hope to create a cohort of youth artists who can take agency and use their creativity among their community, whether it be in Matignon or more broadly," she said.

To lead up to the implementation of A.R.T. at Matignon in the next academic year, the school is now hosting a series of workshops for both current and prospective students from grades six through 12. Nicely led the first of these, an Introduction to Acting workshop following Cambridge Matignon School's open house on Oct. 3. There, she was able to meet many families, and she and Welsh gave a presentation explaining the new program.

The workshop allowed them to gauge what aspects of theatre most interest students and what types of activities they enjoy. Nicely found that although some students were shy at first, they were still "very engaged" and "game for trying new things."

"Something that we really want to instill is the agency of each student to open their minds and their hearts to transform themselves and their communities in creative ways. I started to see the glimmer of that possibility," Nicely said.

Registration for upcoming workshops and further information about A.R.T. at Matignon and the Cambridge Arts Academy is available at