Arts for All staff can attest to the fact that the capacity to be adaptable, the knack to be nimble, is a key to continued success.
Following the 1978 passage of Proposition 13, arts education in Los Angeles County’s 81 school districts began to deteriorate to varying degrees. In the late 1990s a coalition of L.A. county arts leaders and advocates met to discuss problems, such as arts education, that could be addressed only by organizations working together. One result was Arts for All, formed as a public-private partnership in 2002 to empower school districts to build infrastructures for arts education and integrate arts into the core curriculum.
Now Arts for All is celebrating its tenth anniversary with a network of more than 100 partners including school districts, artists, arts and education organizations, corporations and foundations.
There is a shared belief in laying a strong foundation for arts education in the school districts and building their capacity to deliver arts education. The approach, which is now being adopted by others across the country, is to create a plan for the long term, collaboratively and systemically across Los Angeles County.
In the world of arts education, one size does not fit all. There is a tremendous variation in the level and quality of arts education within schools and districts across the county. The Arts for All staff has learned to customize programs to meet the needs at hand within distinct districts.
Sofia Klatzker, who directs grants programs for the LA County Arts Commission, is a ten-year veteran of Arts for All. She says that even though no two districts are alike, staff discovered that most district leaders believe that the arts are important to the core curriculum. “We do not have to sell the idea of arts ed per se,” says Klatzker. “We have to promote implementation.”
Throughout the decade, school district realities have shifted. For example, having a district-level arts coordinator seemed both imperative and realistic at one time. Now it is understood that someone within the district dedicated to coordinating the arts education plan implementation is important, but it can no longer be expected that the person is dedicated to the arts full-time. District level administrators now often wear many hats due to budgetary constraints.
Senior Manager Megan Kirkpatrick, a five-year staffer, believes that the role of Arts for All is to serve, and adaptability helps staff play that role. “We keep our ear to the ground and listen to the needs of the educational leaders.”
Along with Ayanna Hudson, now director of education for the National Endowment for the Arts, I’ve overseen Arts for All since its inception and the past decade has taken us all on a roller coaster ride. During the 1992 economic downturn everyone said school districts had no resources to implement arts education curriculum.
In response to that dilemma, Arts for All made coaches available at no cost to guide school districts in creating arts education plans. We found that districts that integrated arts education planning into the rest of their work became innovative at using existing resources to implement quality arts education programs.
Due to dedicated advocacy work and a simpatico governor, in 2006, the state of California enacted a dedicated line item of $105 million for arts and music education. School districts with arts education plans used these new resources to supercharge implementation and school districts without plans actually were able to pay for coaches to help them develop plans. School districts joining Arts for All jumped from five a year to nine.
As the great recession hit in 2008, this dedicated state line item for music and arts was absorbed back into general school allocations. As resources became tighter, Arts for All again began paying for coaches to work with the schools. What was important was the objective: to keep new school districts on the planning track despite the downturn.
Our strategy around coaching school districts to develop plans kept changing along with the economy. There are now 50 school districts that are part of the effort, with five more joining this fall. I feel confident that we’re seeing the light at the end of the recession tunnel and that implementation will again accelerate in the coming years.
As six-year staffer Kimberleigh Aarn says so well, “Success is not a static state of being. The measurement of success is fluid no matter how strategic you are.”