Arts Education: It’s About Providing Hope

Posted by Molly O'Connor On April - 5 - 2012

Molly O'Connor

There’s a crisis underway in Oklahoma’s public schools. Even though House Bill 1017 requires art and music as core curriculum, these programs have disappeared from too many Oklahoma schools in communities both large and small.

This is nothing new, but that fact alone ensures that any attempt to reinstate these programs faces increasingly tough challenges. Today’s generation of parents were some of the first to miss out on art and music education, and therefore, are often unaware of the benefits of arts education and what their own children are missing out on.

Interestingly enough, several community leaders in Oklahoma continue to step up in efforts to pick up where the schools are falling short. Although, in most cases, it’s about so much more than providing an arts learning experience: It’s about providing hope.

With a thirty-year history of presenting modern dance in Oklahoma, Prairie Dance Theatre has developed new outreach programs for underserved youth and struggling Oklahoma City public schools. Artistic Director Tonya Kilburn is one of the instructors who has been instrumental in implementing dance into physical education programs in the public schools.

Tonya: “Bringing dance to children in OKC is both exciting and rewarding for me as an educator and as a concerned community member. I’ve always felt very fortunate that my chosen art form is so physical, and with Oklahoma rated as the seventh most obese state in the nation, I feel very connected to the solution.” Read the rest of this entry »

Social Inequity and the Unpaid Intern

Posted by Gregory Burbidge On April - 4 - 2012

Gregory Burbidge

In writing about innovation and arts sector reform, Diane Ragsdale issued a call to action urging all of us to “actively address the social inequities in our country.”

Typically, my initial response to such a call would be something like, “let’s make sure that low-income neighborhood schools have the arts!”

I could then write some letters, “call city hall,” or contact members of the school board. None of those actions would require any substantial change in my conceptual frameworks or daily habits.

While committed to the goal, my efforts would be undertaken with a feeling that they would accomplish little. I am also aware that I may prefer such predictable actions not because they produce results but because they are, well, easy. Maybe that’s just me.

The Emerging Arts Leaders of Atlanta Network hosts regular events, often with one speaker or a panel of speakers.

Last summer, at one such meeting, I heard all sorts of great things about a particular internship program. That same meeting raised the issue about labor laws requiring that unpaid interns are not do work that someone else would otherwise be paid to do. I thought I might put together a panel with some interns who were willing to talk about their experience along with the people who run that intern program and a human resources professional to clarify legal mumbo jumbo. Read the rest of this entry »

Ten Years Later: A Puzzling Picture of Arts Education in America

Posted by Narric Rome On April - 2 - 2012

Narric Rome

On April 2, the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released a study glamorously entitled Arts Education in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools 1999-2000 and 2009-10.

The surveys that contributed to this report were conducted through the NCES Fast Response Survey System (FRSS), mailed to about 3,400 elementary and secondary school principals and approximately 5,000 music and visual arts teachers.

National arts education leaders, through policy statements, have been calling for this study to be administered for many years, and helped to direct specific funding from Congress to make it possible.

Ten years is a long time to wait for a federal study to be published and finally it has arrived!

This report presents information on the availability and characteristics of arts education programs of those surveyed, broken down by discipline (music, visual arts, dance, and theatre).

  • It indicates that while music and visual art are widely available in some form, six percent of the nation’s public elementary schools offer no specific instruction in music, and 17 percent offer no specific instruction in the visual arts.
  • Nine percent of public secondary schools reported that they did not offer music, and 11 percent did not offer the visual arts.
  • Only three percent offer any specific dance instruction and only four percent offer any specific theatre instruction in elementary schools. In secondary schools the numbers improve somewhat as 12 percent offer dance and 45 percent offer theatre. Sadly, the study was unable to survey dance and theatre specialists because the data sample didn’t have sufficient contact information in those disciplines. Read the rest of this entry »

Gregory Burbidge

I am lucky enough to work for a service organization in the arts. The Metro Atlanta Arts and Culture Coalition is a regional nonprofit organization in Atlanta, and we spend our time collaborating with local governments, business & civic leaders, funders, and arts leaders for the purpose of supporting arts and culture across a ten county region.

The work we do offers us the tremendous opportunity to observe the field broadly, something most of the organizations we serve don’t have the pleasure of doing.

If I add to this lucky breadth of scope to Diane Ragsdale’s lens on community and her call to think big (to be “reaching exponentially great numbers of people” and not just “maintain our minuscule reach”), something new comes into the picture.

Three of the programs in our community that I have spent the most time talking to people about this year have had tremendous success at reaching further by having the right people building connections at just the right intersections:

Sunny and Krista @ On the Same Page

On the Same Page, based in Decatur, GA, is a city-wide reading initiative. There are examples of community building reading programs in other cities, but this is the model that clicked here.

A locally-owned bookshop saw the need to foster a community of readers, and rather than find a nonprofit to handle a reading program or look for their own profit-making scheme, they took the initiative to make a difference on their own. Read the rest of this entry »

A True Arts Education Partnership

Posted by Alyx Kellington On March - 29 - 2012
Alyx Kellington

Alyx Kellington

In revisiting the Arts Education Blog Salon, I’ve found that one topic keeps popping up in conversation. Victoria Plettner-Saunders asked, “When is it a partnership and when is it something else?” That something else is often a collaboration—and although equally important, there are differences between “collaboration” and “partnership.”

To celebrate Spring Break, I thought I’d highlight a true partnership.

For the past seven years, an amazing partnership has taken place at the Kravis Center for Performing Arts in Palm Beach County, FL.

Sponsored by Prime Time Palm Beach County, Inc. and the Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County, each year approximately fifty children attend the Spring Break Residency: a two-week intensive afterschool program for youth in grades 4–8. The kids work with professional teaching artists and learn new skills in stage production and various art forms.

Students are nominated by afterschool providers and this year, came from eight different sites within a fifteen mile radius. The students do not have to have previous experience in the arts to be involved in the residency program. Youth are encouraged to take an active part in creating their own production, work as a team, cultivate their own ideas, and use their unique talents to express themselves on stage.

The youth are very dedicated and come together for six consecutive days during spring break, 10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m. and then for the next week, for five days after school. Read the rest of this entry »

Honoring Emerging Classical Music Leaders of Color

Posted by Robert Lynch On March - 23 - 2012

Robert Lynch with medal recipient Elena Urioste.

I recently had the honor and pleasure of being invited to attend the Sphinx Medals of Excellence which honors “emerging Black and Latino leaders in classical music who demonstrate the following qualities: excellence, outstanding work ethic, a spirit of determination, and great potential for leadership.”

The Sphinx Organization, led by Founder, President, and National Council of the Arts member Aaron Dworkin, is renowned for helping develop the best and brightest young classical musicians with the express purpose of debunking stereotypes about minorities in the classical music field.

In existence for only 15 years, the Sphinx has had an enormous positive impact by reaching over 85,000 students in 200 hundred schools across the country, and awarding over $1,8250,000 in scholarships.

They have also provided over $300,000 in musical instruments to young minority musicians and staged 260 orchestral performances reaching audiences of 250,000 people!

Against the backdrop of the United States Supreme Court, attendees from the worlds of politics, law, and the arts gathered in our nation’s capital to be thoroughly amazed by the skill and beauty of the performances of the three recipients: clarinetist Anthony McGill and violinists Elena Urioste and Tai Murray. Read the rest of this entry »

Katherine Damkohler

Katherine Damkohler

When visiting a foreign country, you are expected to know at least a few choice phrases, if not speak the language. In addition, you need to know local customs, pastimes, and the economic/social contexts of its citizens.

In much the same way, a school’s arts partner must also be aware of the academic environment they enter, and understand the perspective of the faculty and students. Of course, as arts partners we have something unique and important to contribute to the school (that’s why we’re there, after all), but speaking the language and understanding the challenges of the school make the connections so much richer.

We all talk about the power of the arts to engage students. Engaging students is vitally important, but it cannot be empty engagement—they must be engaged in a way that inspires learning and connections across the curriculum. By speaking the language of the school you help the school’s mission and your organization’s mission simultaneously.

Currently, and in the near future, the dialog within schools focuses upon the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The shifts that are required to implement the CCSS are vital for arts partners to understand. Read the rest of this entry »

So…What’s Your Equation for Quality?

Posted by Kristen Engebretsen On March - 16 - 2012

Kristen Engebretsen

I hope that everyone has enjoyed reading the various thoughts and stories from leaders across the country during our bi-annual Blog Salon (come back in September for our second one).

During the Salon, we heard examples of how folks are measuring quality, in terms of the effectiveness of their partnerships and their levels of student engagement:

We also heard some calls to action, by authors who wanted to push the field forward:

  • Seth’s ideas for shaking up education.
  • Jane’s call to let go of the notion that “models” from the “pockets of excellence” in the field will emerge and conveniently help us “scale up” and solve all of our problems.
  • Joyce’s simple reminder that creativity is the answer to this search for quality.

Thanks for following our salon on quality, engagement, and partnerships.

After reading all of these posts, have you decided on your own equation for quality in your community? I’d love to hear your final reflections in the comments section.

To view the salon in its entirety, please use this link:

Stop Stealing Dreams (Part Five)

Posted by Seth Godin On March - 16 - 2012

Seth Godin

All week, we will be sharing (numbered) points from Seth Godin’s new education manifesto, Stop Stealing Dreams (what is school for?). You can download a free copy of the full 100-page manifesto at

109. What great teachers have in common is the ability to transfer emotion

Every great teacher I have ever encountered is great because of her desire to communicate emotion, not (just) facts.

A teacher wrote to me recently, “I teach first grade and while I have my mandated curriculum, I also teach my students how to think and not what to think.

I tell them to question everything they will read and be told throughout the coming years.

I insist they are to find out their own answers. I insist they allow no one to homogenize who they are as individuals (the goal of compulsory education).

I tell them their gifts and talents are given as a means to make a meaningful difference and create paradigm changing shifts in our world, which are so desperately needed.

I dare them to be different and to lead, not follow. I teach them to speak out even when it’s not popular.

I teach them ‘college’ words as they are far more capable than just learning, ‘sat, mat, hat, cat, and rat.’

Why can’t they learn words such as cogent, cognizant, oblivious, or retrograde just because they are five or six? They do indeed use them correctly which tells me they are immensely capable.” Read the rest of this entry »

DREAM & TELL!: Arts Integration Models at Work (Part Two)

Posted by Merryl Goldberg On March - 16 - 2012

Merryl Goldberg

TELL! (Theater for English Language Learners) is a National Endowment for the Arts funded project in Arts in Education.

The program provides 120 fourth grade students at Maryland Elementary in Vista, CA with theater experiences aimed at increasing language acquisition and reading comprehension.

Here are the demographics for the students of Maryland Elementary: 62 percent are homeless, 72 percent are English language learners, and 96 percent qualify for free or reduced lunch.

I was at the school just this week and am simply awestruck by the enormous potential the kids all have and show via this program. As you can read by the demographics—kids at this school come into learning with a fair amount of challenges. Many at 10-years-old have responsibility for watching over younger siblings. Many of the kids come into the program having not been afforded previous arts experiences.

TELL! begins with a chapter book: Clementine, written by Sara Pennypacker and illustrated by Marla Frazee. I chose this book and series because it is extremely engaging and funny, and most kids can identify with the main character, Clementine, who is always getting into trouble, and believes since she was named after a fruit, her brother should be named after a vegetable and therefore only ever refers to him as celery, radish, spinach, broccoli, etc.

Despite being in the principal’s office nearly every day, and constantly getting into trouble for things like cutting her friend’s hair (but it looks wonderful!) Clementine‘s world is full and filled with supportive adults. Read the rest of this entry »

Art-Filled Learning: A Way of Life

Posted by Michelle Burrows On March - 16 - 2012

Michelle Burrows

The school is buzzing. Classrooms are alive with children moving, singing, working together, learning.

In this room, kindergarteners are creating “movement mountains,” their growing understanding of addition facts becoming clearer with every new, non-locomotor “mountain” they create.

In that room, third graders are using iPads to film each other’s first-person perspectives, discussing things such as voice quality and communication.

Down the hall, fifth graders have created “mini Mondrians”, using the work of Piet Mondrian to discuss area and perimeter.

And over there, fourth graders are creating lyrics—chorus and verses—for their “escape” songs, modeling cultural songs of slavery.

Were those kindergarteners trying out their “mountain” dance moves in dance class? Were the fourth graders learning song writing vocabulary in music class? Were the perspective videos taking place in the drama room? Nope.

All of these art-filled lessons were taking place in the regular classroom. Arts integration at its finest.  As we toured several elementary schools in the North Carolina A+ Schools Network, the value and importance of this key piece of arts education was plainly visible.

A+ Schools will tell you that there are three key parts to a true education in the arts: quality, exposure, and integration. Read the rest of this entry »

Stop Stealing Dreams (Part Four)

Posted by Seth Godin On March - 15 - 2012

Seth Godin

All week, we will be sharing (numbered) points from Seth Godin’s new education manifesto, Stop Stealing Dreams (what is school for?). You can download a free copy of the full 100-page manifesto at

17. Reinventing school

If the new goal of school is to create something different from what we have now, and if new technologies and new connections are changing the way school can deliver its lessons, it’s time for a change.

Here are a dozen ways school can be rethought:

Homework during the day, lectures at night

Open book, open note, all the time

Access to any course, anywhere in the world

Precise, focused instruction instead of mass, generalized instruction

The end of multiple-choice exams Read the rest of this entry »

Growing Stronger Together: Arts Partnerships in Philadelphia

Posted by Sahar Javedani On March - 15 - 2012

Sahar Javedani

As some of you may know, after seven years of working in New York City in arts education, I have recently moved to Philadelphia and am excited to join the creative workforce there!

Just after moving to Philly, I was encouraged by fellow arts ed colleagues to reach out to Varissa McMickens, director of ArtsRising, and she welcomed me with open arms, sharing valuable resources and orienting me on the current arts education scene and its’ wonderfully diverse programs.

On February 28, I had the great pleasure of joining 50 other representatives of Philadelphia arts & culture organizations in “Growing Stronger Together : Center City Student Forum & Conversation.”

This forum was organized by partner organizations: Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, ArtsRising, and PhillyRising.

Here’s a great description of the event from the ArtsRising website:

“Growing Stronger Together, a focus group with approximately 20 local high school students and representatives from the organizations mentioned above, was really about hearing the students’ voices. Read the rest of this entry »

The Creative Process Ensures Quality Instruction

Posted by Joyce Bonomini On March - 15 - 2012

Joyce Bonomini

As a practitioner, I have often taken quality, engagement and partnership for granted: they are a given. How could you live without any of them?

In fact, none of these factors exist without the other. Think about it. Think about how life would be…

I know that I am expanding the definitions in my head. I am not just talking about partnership of organizations here but individuals; such as teacher to student or the partnership a person has with their instrument, writing pen, script, or experiment.

I am talking about life with or without connection of self to others. I am not sure how quality of any level can exist without connection.

WOW, what an “AHA!” moment I just had because that is what we ask hundreds of thousands of students to do every day in the classrooms across this country.

Can we stop asking WHY students are dropping out?

I mean, don’t we know why they are BORED, feel unengaged, and often have no connection to either their instructor or anyone else. Read the rest of this entry »

Anthony Brandt

Anthony Brandt

Access to arts education is one of the civil rights issues of our time. I’d like to use brain science to explain why.

Our brains operate using two types of behavior: automated and mediated. Automated behavior puts a premium on reliability and efficiency. The brain achieves this by pruning: It streamlines the neural circuitry required to complete a task. Automated behavior can be innate, like breathing, or learned, like recognizing the alphabet.

Automated behavior is almost always unconscious. Throughout our lives, we develop and greatly rely on a host of automated skills. That’s why we don’t like backseat drivers—they force us to think about actions we’d prefer to remain unconscious.

We share the ability for automated mental behavior with all other animals. But as neuroscientist David Eagleman explains in his new book, Incognito, the human brain also has an advanced capacity for mediated behavior.

The goal of mediated behavior is flexibility and innovation. Mediated behavior depends on multiple brain circuits working on the same problem—what Eagleman terms “the team of rivals.” Instead of dedicating a limited neural network to a task, the brain tolerates redundancy and promotes networking. It’s what we mean by “keeping an open mind.”

Mediated behavior can also involve conscious awareness: We overhear and participate in the internal conversation of our thoughts. The vigorousness of our mediated behavior is unique in the animal kingdom. It is what defines us as human beings. Read the rest of this entry »