Aspire! Conservatory Takes Arts Education to New Heights


Aspire: to have a strong hope or ambition, or to direct one's hopes and ambitions towards achieving something. And that definition sets the tone for Aspire! Conservatory of Fine and Performing Arts.

Their mission is to promote both recreational and performance driven music making and fine arts education within the community in a positive, friendly, Christian atmosphere. They also aim to enhance personal mental, physical and spiritual well-being through arts related experiences.

“Simply put,” said DeNeil Hartley, founder and administrative director, “we are a non-profit committed to high quality, fine arts education.”

Programs at Aspire! include music (both group and private instruction), art classes, music theatre, and an Inclusive Arts program of music therapy, adapted music lessons, and special needs music and arts classes.

Just finishing its seventh school year, the program, which employees 28 people, is hosted by First Baptist Church in Ashland and United Methodist Church in Louisa. “Being housed in the church allows us to partner with them in ministries as we can,” explained Hartley. “We have three to four students in the praise and worship band, and we’ve formed a junior praise band as well.”

Aspire! offers after-school art programs in three local elementary schools. Paid for by the parents, it is used to complement the arts education of each school. They also offer advanced classes for high school students as well as adult classes.

The TheatreWorks program is offered for students from third grade and up. “These classes are considered educational because we don’t audition for roles,” said Hartley. “Everyone enrolled will be included and learn all facets.”

Michelle Harless teaches piano in Louisa and helps with theatre in Ashland. “This is such a good way to get kids involved,” she said. “It’s not real competitive and gives them a chance to explore and to make mistakes without judgment.”

Music plays an integral role in programming. They offer private and group lessons for children and adults in piano, voice, guitar, woodwinds, brass, and percussion. “Music is mood altering, motivational, interactive and provides a good social outlet,” said Hartley. “We have a lab where pianos are networked, and the instructor can work individually or with the group. They can even practice in teams.” 

The Conservatory is a pioneer in community education and music therapy. With the Tri-States’ only nationally board-certified music therapist, they serve several community partners. 

“In addition to our individual and group sessions in Ashland, we are under contract with HOOPs Children’s Hospital in Huntington to provide music therapy services to their pediatric patients,” said Hartley. “Our music therapist also visits the Ramey Estep Adolescent Residential Treatment Center for four hours a week to do group therapy with students who have been placed there due to trauma.” 

For the Inclusive Arts programs, group classes are designed for the special needs population, including those with autism, based on like age or like cognitive ability. “When students with cognitive issues graduate from high school, a lot of times they don’t have the opportunity to share in these types of experiences,” Hartley said. “We provide an outlet for them to simply interact and have an enjoyable time.” 

Annie Johnson is the site administrator for Louisa and is very excited about what has been accomplished there. “Aspire! offers the type of programming I wish had been available when I was in school,” Johnson said. “We have 85 students of all ages currently enrolled. And it’s great because they want to be there. They want to learn.” 

Hartley echoes that sentiment. “The bond we build with students and their parents is so strong. They are like our family. And to watch their growth and see their change in confidence is the most rewarding part of what we do.”