I spent the past 10 years touring the state of Arizona working for the Arizona Commission on the Arts.
Along the way, I saw quality arts education partnerships in action from county attorney’s offices collaborating with urban elementary schools to create murals with an anti-drug message, to rural school districts working in tandem with presenting organizations to provide live theatre to students.
I met partners who brought a unique contribution to the table and partners vested in ensuring their programs were of quality.
However, I also encountered estranged, forced, and tired partnerships that were no longer contributing quality experiences to students.
I’ve also made a career change. In my new role as the education director of outreach for the Mesa Arts Center, I’m charged with providing authentic arts experiences and finding unique, quality partners to deepen the impact of arts education in our community.
While I had numerous examples in the field to draw from, like many colleagues, I found there was never one program I could model from or one solution to “how do we make this work?” Each community, art center, school, teacher, and artist had their own unique contribution and impact to make.
When I came on board, the center had an established partnership with a local elementary school, providing pre- and post-residency theatre activities led by the center’s teaching artists. The partnership has clear goals, thoughtful contributions from all partners, authentic student assessment, program evaluation, and vested staff. All this contributes towards a quality experience for students.
Teachers are excited to welcome our artists. Students that have been at the school since Kindergarten are now fifth graders and know each year they will engage in theatre arts and see live performances tied to works of literature.
Walking into such a thoughtful partnership allowed me to spend time developing new partners and programs.
This year we launched our Culture Connect program, which provides area schools free tickets to Mesa Arts Center cultural performances, complemented by pre- and post- artist in residence activities. Local schools were interviewed and chosen based on their commitment to the program, teacher’s interest in utilizing arts and culture to teach diversity and tolerance through the arts, and student’s interest in exploring culture through participatory activities and live performance.
Each artist visit is followed by interviews with artists, students, staff, and administration. Participating schools were informed that active participation, investment in the program, and support through in kind contributions would determine eligibility in the following year.
To date, all our schools will be returning for another year of programming. In a wrap up meeting one principal noted that asking for their strategic investment, made them vested early in the program and its success.
While I look forward, I’m excited about providing new and dynamic experiences for our community through beneficial partnerships. Look for me in the coffee shop, as I seek my next partner in providing authentic arts experiences for our community!