The Arts Endowment’s vision is that every student is engaged and empowered through an excellent arts education. This statement reflects a fundamental belief that all students should have the opportunity to participate in the arts, both in school and out of school. It also acknowledges the very real benefits of an arts education—students participating in the arts are engaged in life and are empowered to be fulfilled, responsible citizens who make a profound, positive impact on this world. I’d like to share with you what the NEA has learned about how to achieve this vision and steps we are taking to move this vision forward.
In 2008 the NEA inaugurated the Education Leaders Institute (ELI) with teams from Alaska, Kentucky, Nebraska, North Carolina, and Wisconsin, who spent two and a half days in Chicago to discuss how to make the arts core to pre-K through 12th grade education across their respective states. They listened to speakers who stretched their thinking, discussed articles and chapters that provided new insights, and worked with a coach who guided the team along the way.
After five years of convening 29 states, NEA held an Education Leaders Institute Alumni Summit in Chicago in December 2012. I’ll never forget the energy and excitement in the meeting room when it was full with two team members from each of the eight Alumni Summit teams–Alabama, California, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin. I listened intently to their shared stories of what they were learning since their participation in ELI and their efforts to move arts education forward across a state—efforts that were both successful and not so successful.
One of the discussions centered on collective impact, a framework which resonated deeply with the alumni summit participants from the eight states. Collective impact is a term coined by John Kania and Mark Kramer. I like to think of it as a group of stakeholders and organizations from different sectors creating solutions to difficult problems. You can learn more about this framework in the NEA’s webinar from March 2013 with John Kania.
After the ELI Alumni Summit, I spent a lot of time thinking about the stories I heard at the summit. At the same time, ELI’s evaluator, Rob Horowitz, delved deeply into the interviews that he conducted at the summit and the responses he received on the post-summit evaluation surveys. Four themes emerged from reflections and a deep look at all of this material. The NEA describes these four themes as “catalysts” to advance arts education:
1. Cross-sector collaboration of state-level policymakers
2. A laser focus on changing the systems that serve students
3. A sustained, coordinated effort of the state-level partners over time
4. Alignment of arts education with state-wide priorities
The NEA Arts Education staff had an “aha” moment when we realized that the four catalysts align perfectly with the collective impact framework articulated in the article written by Kania and Kramer. With a focus on this alignment, the NEA developed an Arts Education Strategic Plan which is grounded in collective impact and will guide the agency’s leadership, investments, and annual priority-setting process for pre-K through 12th grade arts education.
We invite you to read more about both the ELI Alumni Summit findings and how they informed the NEA’s strategic plan in the newly released Education Leaders Institute Alumni Summit Report.
I will be talking further about the catalysts to advance arts education, the goals in the NEA’s new strategic plan for arts education and all things collective impact on June 12, 2014 at the Americans for the Arts’ Arts Education & Advocacy Preconference in Nashville, TN. I hope to see you there!