- Associated Press - Sunday, May 18, 2014

OXFORD, Miss. (AP) - Stacey Sanford won’t win the War on Poverty all by herself.

But she’s spent the past year trying to win little victories as a VISTA member based at the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council in Oxford.

Volunteers in Service to America was created during President Lyndon Johnson’s administration, and was brought under the AmericaCorps umbrella in the 1990s.

“It’s like the Peace Corps but in America,” the 27-year-old University of Mississippi graduate said. “We are supposed to alleviate poverty. We’re supposed to help people live better.”

Sanford has taken direct aim at those two goals while working at the arts council.

She’s overseen programs to expand access to concerts, plays and other events, and also helped teach struggling artists the skills needed to compete in a tough economy.

“The thing about Stacey is she’s a go-getter,” said Andi Bedsworth, 43, an Oxford-based artist and educator. “She is focused on what she’s doing.”

It’s important to note that Sanford didn’t spend the past year re-inventing the wheel. It’s more precise to say she’s put wheels in motion.

“A lot of the things that have happened were part of our long-range goals,” said Wayne Andrews, executive director of YAC. “She was able to carry them out. She’s our full-time person who’s making these programs happen setting them up, meeting with people, making connections.”

Sanford has a deep appreciation for what the arts can do for individuals and communities. She cited a 2008 study that found young people who painted, acted, sang or otherwise expressed themselves through the arts were more likely to apply for higher education.

“The arts prepare kids for future opportunities,” she said.

Art for Everyone is a simple concept: Get event tickets into the hands of people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to take advantage of Oxford’s thriving arts and entertainment scene.

“How do we make it an equal opportunity for them?” Sanford said. “We didn’t want to make it feel like a handout. We wanted to do it without making them feel less than.”

Sanford worked with venues and donors to create an ongoing supply of tickets, then partnered with the Lafayette County & Oxford Public Library to get those tickets into the right hands.

“There is no card to swipe that says, Oh, you’re poor.’ There’s no fee and no paperwork,” Sanford said. “You don’t have to prove how poor you are, so you don’t have to tell your story. You just use your library card. That’s it. Anybody can get a library card.”

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