As a statewide funder of arts education, the trend in my organization’s support of arts education over the last decade has been to push the field towards deeper levels of arts integration. Although the beginning of the erosion of arts specialists in schools predates my career in arts administration, I strongly suspect that this emphasis on integrating the arts with other (perhaps more stable) subject areas was a reactive measure rather than a proactive one. In other words, instead of honoring arts integration as an effective teaching method for addressing multiple learning styles, it was seen as a “quick fix” for the loss of critically important arts specialists.
One of the consequences of this investment has been a decrease in attention to out-of-school work. This may be due to a perceived lack of quality (not aligned with state standards, not assessed, not taught by certified educators, etc.), but is also probably a result of decreased availability of grant dollars. As funders turned their attention to in-school work, organizations dependent on that funding were forced to divert their resources towards in-school programs. While there are still many high-quality out-of-school programs in operation, as evidenced by the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards, they seem to lack broad recognition as a valuable component of arts education.
I’ve recently watched the evolution of several new grant programs in Oregon, each with their own attempt to link in- and out-of-school earning. The Oregon Community Foundation’s new “Studio to School” program endeavors to create a lasting arts education legacy within a community over a five year investment. While the final funding decisions have not yet been announced, I noticed while serving as a reviewer in the initial phase that the most problematic section of the application asked applicants to “link arts education during the school day to out of school arts learning.”
I observed the same challenge while administering my own new grant program at the Oregon Arts Commission, “Connecting Students to the World of Work.” When applicants were asked “What strategies will you use to connect classroom learning to workplace learning?” many struggled to define how their projects, focused mainly on intensive internship experiences for high school students, would have any relevance back in the classroom.
This is the key issue from both sides of the arts education coin (in- and out-of-school work): how does what students are learning in schools have application to the “real world” and how do out-of-school experiences explicitly impact school-day learning?
In the recently released report Arts Education for America’s Students: A Shared Endeavor, there is a graphic of the overlapping spheres of influence that work together to create a comprehensive education for students. I would be very interested to see the next step in this conversation be a toolkit (I shudder at my use of that tired word) that identifies best practices at each of those intersecting points.
How are you addressing the interface of in-school and out-of-school education? At what intersection does your programming function? How are you engaging community partners in schools and vice versa? And I mean really “engaging:” How do they cultivate a mutually beneficial relationship, not just a transactional one? How would you define success at each of the intersecting points in the “A Shared Endeavor” graphic?