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14 Cities Work Together to Expand Arts Education

In an effort to better the quality of arts education, 14 cities and their respective school districts have joined a program linking art groups to different schools. This helps improve the quality of art education without straining their already tight budgets. This program was spearheaded by the Kennedy Center in Sacramento and is called the “Ensuring the Arts for Any Given Child” program.

Last Wednesday, art educators and school leaders across 14 cities and numerous school districts from Sacramento to Baltimore met up to compare notes on what’s been making their art program so successful. The effort began in Sacrament in 2009 and has expanded to a reach of 1 million students this year.

Erika Kraft of the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission says that when they started the effort 5 years ago, they had almost no teachers left. It was in the midst of the Great Recession and only 17 percent of students were being exposed to any art education at that point. Now 35,000 students gather together every year to watch a live arts performance and the curriculum is being reworked to incorporate more art-integrated subjects.

Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser said that they could to expand from 14 to 50 or even 75 cities within the next decade, with the help of the $1 million endowment they were awarded by the Newman’s Own Foundation. Kaiser says that the real secret to the program’s rapid growth is that it makes sense—it was well-formulated and that the only way to teach art is really to be immersed in the presence of artists. He says that they will soon be presenting the numbers that they’ve gathered over the years in order to spread awareness as how to go about teaching art in the world of budget-cuts.

Candy Schneider, the head of the project in Las Vegas (a participating city since 2010) says that the expansion in their city has been great—both because of the eagerness of the students and the monetary support they’ve gotten for the effort. They were recently given support by the Las Vegas Philharmonic and the Las Vegas Ballet, both in private and federal grants. They also received a nearly $900,000 grant from the Department of Education earlier in the year to ensure the expansion of arts education in the coming years.

The teachers involved in the effort go to the Kennedy Center in Washington every summer for training.

The combined effort has eliminated almost all competing art programs for federal funding. Schneider says that she is very proud of this—and that it will definitely mean good things even for the programs which didn’t get grants because their effort means the definite expansion of arts education throughout the country. She says that she is grateful that all the support the program has gotten has been sincere. While they appreciate the money, she stresses that it has never been and never will be about the money: once you get there, you know it’s about the children.

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