I recently received an informational brochure from SPACES, an organization that is based in Cleveland, Ohio. It advances the artist’s vision by providing freedom, resources and an audience; SPACES enables artists to engage the public in a vital dialogue about contemporary art (from their website: www.SPACESgallery.org).  

Printed on the front of the brochure were the words “We’re Hot for Teacher.” It looked like a clerk at the post office had used the brochure to take down some notes… and as I opened the brochure I realized it was all part of the design … “Join us for an experimental school-as-exhibition” … I read more … it was appealing and interesting.  Wow, arts education for me … well for adults!

As stated in the brochure this is “An Institute for Situated Practices” and includes a series of forums (classes) in September and October. The forum descriptions are so interesting: Academy Dis-Orientation, Bad Art Day, Chance and Procedural Writing, Graffiti Frost, I Like the Way Dancing Feels … Just Not the Way Dancing Looks: An Exercise in Radical Choreography, and my favorite – Of Sound Mind: Ephemeral Fusion of Found Sounds and Created Clatter.
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Can We Have Our Cake NOW?

Posted by Laura Reeder On September - 24 - 2009No comments yet

A wise friend once reminded me that students are the only people in a school community that do not really have a choice about being there. When we promise our kids that all of this learning will pay off in a fabulous adulthood, we need to remember how long it takes to get to that reward.

Along the way we know that many kids will choose to stay in school, try harder, and succeed in many areas as a result of participation in the arts. We also know that very successful systems exist to spread that potential. But, what do we do for the student who is struggling to understand why school matters to them today? Is there any way that we can make this very day as meaningful and important right now?

There is a bold team of arts education thinkers that dare to look beyond the important drive for great quantity such as our own “Ask for More” intentions. They are defining a quality of arts engagement that is almost impossible to systematize, difficult to measure, and certainly tricky to sell to adults who are looking at career and college goals. Read the rest of this entry »

What does it take to lead a Cause on Facebook?

I believe all good leadership begins with a study in following. Between setting my first giant goals (post 1) and deciding to set objectives (post 2) I dug around the Cause for awhile and asked a lot of questions. I got super clear on what could work better and what members wanted from an effective Cause.

I made an agenda to serve from and ran it by the Administrator of Keep the Arts in Public Schools. At the time, I had no idea about becoming an Administrator myself, I just saw that there was work that could be done. And so I made a list.

And from there I had a framework I could operate out of. I knew the primary concerns, challenges, goals and objectives of the membership in general. And, I dug around until I was satisfied in the material about the non-profit organization our Cause was supporting. Read the rest of this entry »

A parent of a pre-k special needs student contacted me last year. She had taken a workshop led by one of our artists and really enjoyed it; she felt it could help her child learn to find her own creative voice, and feel successful at school. Her daughter, Cristina, attended classes at two pre-k centers that hosted visiting artists in the classroom. However, because she was special-needs designated, she missed both opportunities. How? At the first site, Cristina was pulled out of one class for one-on-one instruction time during the artists’ visit. At the second site, she was placed in a stand-alone class for special needs students. Unlike the other classes at her school, this class did not host a visiting artist.

For students with special needs, access to arts learning opportunities are often few and far between. Yet, special needs-designated students are often the most likely to benefit from arts learning. There is a lot of talk in the education world about “access and equity.” Read the rest of this entry »

My friend and colleague, Jung Ho Pak, conductor of several orchestras including Orchestra Nova (formerly the San Diego Chamber Orchestra), and I have had several discussions concerning the notion of desire.  For Jung Ho, the question is, “how do I create a desire for classical music?”  His concern is warranted since over the last decade, support for classical music has waned, and creating an audience for an orchestra is key to keeping in the business of presenting concerts.

The question of creating a desire for classical music, especially among a generation of young people most of whom have not had exposure to classical music via their grade school education, has been central to his approach as a conductor.  Among the changes he has made with regard to performances include simple things like having the orchestra musicians dress less formerly, smile on stage, and meet and greet audience members.  An aim of Pak’s is to break down the barriers of “us” and “them” when it comes to classical music. Read the rest of this entry »

Falling on our Faces

Posted by Patti Saraniero On September - 24 - 20091 COMMENT

Occasionally at some parent/teacher coffee or at the end of the school day I can trap some poor parent and make them listen to me about how great and important the arts are for their kid.  Usually, they try to agree with me very quickly and get away from my increasingly zealous preaching.

Here’s a tune I’ve been whistling recently.  The arts provide an important thing for our kids.  They give them a safe place to fail.  We fail a lot in the art-making process.  It sort of comes with the territory.  No one artist gets it right every time.  Some get it right a lot but there is still plenty of “oops” in the background.  If you are a collaborative artist – dancer, musician, actor – you have plenty of opportunity to fail in front of other people.  Rehearsals are full of large and small failures, nearly all of them public.   Read the rest of this entry »

In my experience as a music educator and arts supervisor, parents often ask me what they can do at home to encourage their child’s love for the arts. Recently the Ohio Alliance for Arts Education, a statewide arts education service organization dedicated to monitoring and advocating for policy to improve arts education for Ohio’s children, developed Fine Arts Standards Guides for Families. These guides articulate the academic content standards in the arts and advocate for arts education as part of a complete education for Ohio’s children. 

Here are some thoughts, tips and activities for simple, easy, no or low-cost activities for parents to do with their children at home included in the Fine Arts Standards Guides and a few of my own for parents to think about. 

For young children, stock a designated drawer with a variety of art supplies such as crayons, watercolors, water-based markers, modeling clay, and paper in an assortment of sizes. Use art vocabulary, color, shape, line, and texture in discussing the artwork your child has created. Display their artwork to let them know that you value the artwork they have created. Read the rest of this entry »

Arts Learning Across the Tundra

Posted by Annie Calkins On September - 24 - 20092 COMMENTS

The Lower Kuskokwim School District in western Alaska is a huge (22,000 miles) network of small, K – 12 village schools ranging in size from 40 to 800 in Bethel, the district hub. Schools are accessible only by small plane or snow machine, depending on the time of year and weather conditions. The city of Bethel has a population of 5,800, and five schools. Excluding Bethel, 99.5% of the population of the District is Native Alaskan and Yup’ik is the primary language in these communities. There are no Arts Specialists in the district, and no formal arts curriculum, though there is a vibrant Yup’ik culture and language program which incorporates indigenous art forms practiced for generations and passed on by respected Elders.

The distrtrict operates a district-wide Title One Program, as it is one of the most poor of rural Alaska districts; 87% of the total student population are Title One students. Though it has an average childhood poverty rate of 64%, eighteen village schools have over 80% of their students living in poverty. Children come to school speaking Yup’ik and use it as the language of instruction through third grade. Read the rest of this entry »

Being born and raised in Arizona, having participated in the arts throughout childhood, and four years in art school, you think I would have known about the Arizona Commission on the Arts, right?  Wrong.  I’m ashamed to admit it, but I just did.

I actually stumbled across a piece of mail my senior year of college at my student worker job (in a completely unrelated field).  It was a brochure for the Arizona Commission on the Arts’ annual Southwest Arts Conference.  I opened the brochure addressed to someone who no longer worked there.  Paranoid I’d get fired, or sent to prison for opening someone else’s mail, I stashed the brochure in my backpack and waited to open it at home.

I broke the small circular sticker that held the brochure together.  Suddenly, the secrets of the art universe seemed to begin to unravel.  “Wow a state-wide conference on the arts!” I thought to myself as I scanned the text.  Workshops on various topics, some of which I had no idea existed were now new thoughts floating around in my head. Read the rest of this entry »

The Arts Leadership Academy

Posted by Lucia Brawley On September - 24 - 20092 COMMENTS

Imagine gleaming, sunlit hallways with paintings, drawings and photographs adorning the walls, while classical music wafts from one room and hip-hop from another.  Imagine sauntering past a studio to see ballet dancers and break-dancers collaborate on a new piece, while green designers in another studio draft sustainable sculptural furniture. 

Now, imagine that, an hour from now, all these varied artists will come together in discussion with mentors to learn creative ways to empower themselves financially and market themselves strategically, how to find the best representatives for them and how to be the agents of their own careers, how to navigate between the worlds of art and commerce, imagination and policy, how to use the arts to solve social problems, even create a social movement.

Imagine that highly-motivated artists in their 20s, 30s and 40s  attend cultural events together, collaborate on art projects that address social issues, exhibit and perform their resultant works in esteemed venues, receive instruction from innovators in their own artistic fields of study, as well as trailblazers in business, social entrepreneurship, academia, and social justice. Read the rest of this entry »

From 1984 through 2008, the student enrollment in the Clark County School District (CCSD) headquartered in Las Vegas, grew from 89,627 to 311,417 and during this time, the Fine and Performing Arts Programs established themselves as some of the finest in the country with approximately 1,000 arts educators currently employed.  During this period, there were several “bumps in the road” as economic times threatened district-wide cuts however IT WAS THROUGH ORGANIZED ADVOCACY EFFORTS that these cuts were never made.

At this time, the CCSD Board of School Trustees held district-wide meetings across all 8,000+ square miles that make up Clark County, Nevada. Parents and arts advocates from all walks of life were energized through a well-organized, statewide group called “AMEN!” (Advocates for Music Education in Nevada!) and that stopped everything dead in its tracks. Attendees were asked to sign a specifically colored card that signified that attendee’s specific area of interest and at EVERY meeting, the pink cards (those denoting fine and performing arts supporters) outnumbered all of the others 20 to 1. It was EASY!  District-wide cuts in the arts would not be considered!

Fast-forward to 2009. Read the rest of this entry »

My state, Arizona, is facing its worst budget crisis ever. We still do not have a balanced budget for the current fiscal year ($1 billion still in the hole – about 12% of our entire state budget), and we are projecting a deficit of at least $2 billion for 2010-2011. The entire education system – meaning all the public schools, both district and charter -  may need to take a 10-30% cut in terms of funding for the 2010-2011 school year.  In a system where there isn’t much left to cut after 2 lean years, what does a 30% cut look like? And what does that mean for arts education?

•    Larger and larger class sizes. Teacher salaries are the largest percentage of any school budget. If you need to cut the budget, you end up cutting out teachers, leading to larger class sizes. In Yuma, AZ, kindergarten classes are already up to 33 students (Can you imagine teaching 33 Kindergarteners in one space? How about working with them in art class – learning how to use scissors safely, for example, with limited room to maneuver?).
•    Fewer options. In high schools, fewer electives might be offered. In order for a class to “make,” a higher number of students will be needed. Classes with a lower number of participants will move off the scheduling calendar entirely. This will certainly include arts classes; it may also impeded honors arts classes for the dedicated arts student.
•    Loss of programs entirely. Some budget-minded school district officials and school board members may see arts as an entire program of study to cut in times of budgetary distress. These folks most likely are arts friendly – they are just trying to balance their budget and do so with the least harm to the school. They may not understand how the arts support the entire school, let alone an individual student. They may also think that students who are interested in music or theatre can find these offerings (and afford them) outside of the public school. Read the rest of this entry »

I just read Donna Collins’ blogpost and found myself stunned by a quote. She stated “One music teacher said, “I’m old school.  You teach what kids need to learn and you should not spend time writing letters to policy makers, pleading your case in front of the school board, or parading your kids down the street at levy time.”

If it is not our responsibility to advocate for what we want for our children, then whose is it? How does an art teacher “teach what kids need to learn” if he or she no longer has a job because the program is cut, and how does the general classroom teacher “teach what kids need to learn” in art if it is no longer considered part of the curriculum? We can no longer assume that arts education will always be in our schools.

In San Diego last spring we learned quickly that without a strong advocacy campaign we would lose the Visual and Performing Arts Department at the San Diego Unified School District. Had our teachers, parents, Facebook fans, arts organizations and others not spent time writing letters, pleading our case in front of the school board or creating a media event on the Board of Education’s lawn, we might not have a department to speak of today. Now I understand that she was probably speaking from the teacher’s standpoint and many educators in the school system do not feel comfortable advocating for their own programs, but in San Diego, the teacher’s voices became critical to the effort. Read the rest of this entry »

Not enough of our schools have certified, in-school arts teachers, but even those that do all too often relegate those arts teachers to second-class status in the school. Along with P.E. and Library, arts education is a “special” – a period used to “cover” students while the rest of the faculty has grade level meetings or has a “prep”. Often, a visual arts teacher does not have his or her own room, rattling through the hallways with “art on a cart”.  Insufficient supplies. No running water. Musical presentations are made in lunchatoriums that are acoustically hopeless. Administration of partnerships with external arts organizations is often assigned to arts teachers without their participation in or even approval of the planning of the partnership.

What to do about this?

The Fine and Performing Arts Magnet Cluster Program in Chicago Public Schools provides an intriguing model. The arts teachers (visual arts, music, dance, theater) from 58 schools that serve as neighborhood based magnet schools for the arts (as opposed to magnet schools that “cherry pick” students from across the district) have been, for several years, convening regularly as a professional community, been given leadership training, been supported in providing professional development in the arts to the rest of their faculties, have curated public exhibitions and performances across schools, and been made part of the teams that develop each school’s required Improvement Plan. Read the rest of this entry »

When I am asked what quality makes ArtsConnection stand out as an arts-in-education organization that partners with New York City public schools, I always answer that … “We are good listeners.”

For me, the secret of being an effective partner is to hear and understand what a principal and teachers believe in and want to accomplish, and to respect and respond to what they are saying. The relationships we establish between classroom teachers and teaching artists are critical – and they cannot be one way relationships.

In the old days planning was informal. An artist might meet with a classroom teacher briefly before starting a residency and their conversation was nearly always about what the artist was going to do and not about what the students and the teacher needed. Artists are strong personalities and dominated these conversations. Read the rest of this entry »