"And the beat goes on......................"
Continuing with the ABBA Blog Forum with Local Arts Agency leaders in the San Francisco Bay Area (see Monday's blog for the introduction and participant's list).
Arts Education remains somewhat of a Have and Have-Not proposition, with wealthy districts offering more than those that are struggling financially. Is the solution an approach that unites all the districts in the greater Bay Area? If not, then what can each district do at this point in time to maximize the possibility of offering meaningful arts education to local students K-12?
Kristen Madsen: Fun fact: Sonoma County, with a population of 500,000, has 40 school districts, while as a comparison, San Francisco, with a population of 850,000, has a single school district. And each of the remaining counties in the region is somewhere in between. My point is that the idea of unified efforts within each of our counties is fraught with challenges – the idea of expanding that to a 9 county region is likely to implode before liftoff.
However, the idea of learning from each other and piggy-backing on existing efforts is incredibly effective. This month, with funding from the Community Foundation of Sonoma County, the California Arts Council, and the Hewlett Foundation, we are undertaking an assessment of arts education in our K-12 schools, county-wide. And I’ll pause here to give a lot of credit to the Hewlett Foundation for its leadership in guiding this process. Shortly after we learned that the Arts Council of Napa County had launched a similar effort, Hewlett stepped in with access to new data and an invitation for potential funding. They introduced us to the recently released California Arts Education Data Project produced by Create CA, also with Hewlett funds. CreateCA has culled all the arts education data that schools report to the state Department of Education and put it online in a searchable and very user-friendly set of dashboards. Hewlett also let us know that Marin County was also mid-stream in a county-wide arts education project. And the Hewlett offer of funds was very helpful in leveraging additional funds from Community Foundation Sonoma County for the project. So we are starting this work on second base. And huge thanks go to our friends in Napa who have been extraordinarily generous with their information, tools, and process to help keep us from reinventing the wheel.
Our goal is to gain real, meaningful, accurate data about what is happening in arts education in our county’s schools. Once we understand the current state of affairs, we can determine if there are gaps, how big they are, where they are, and more. At that point, we can develop a strategy to begin to fill those holes, starting with the deepest first. Stay tuned.
Olivia Dodd: When it comes to equal access to arts education, we are all fortunate to have Joe Landon leading the California Alliance for Arts Education and helping local communities develop our own action networks to promote change. The Alliance helped us to kick-off our own local network and through this work, we have seen that this multi-front strategy, state and local, is an effective approach. There are absolutely areas where this work can be expanded and the initiatives tackled at a regional level and some that have already begun.
Our county offices of education’s VAPA representatives already meet as a region through the Alliance for Arts Learning Leadership of the Bay Area and collaborate on the Inventing Our Future integrated learning summer institute, a program of the Alameda County Office of Education. This is a great example of a regional effort to maximize resources and leverage regional assets for the professional development and networking of arts education providers and advocates. There is a lot more to be learned and shared with each other regionally like, strategies and tactical resources for LCAP advocacy, teaching artist trainings, pooled private resources/funds, greater access to classroom teacher trainings in methods like Visual Thinking Strategies, and strategies to create access to our unique resources in museum collections, performance experiences, and teaching artist databases.
However, with as much that can grow from a regional collaboration, we will need to be mindful of and resourceful in addressing logistical challenges in implementing shared resources, like limited PD budgets, transportation, and district-based decision making. As we consider the district power base for budgets, strategic priorities and curriculum, as well as to be most impactful in our understanding and outreach to students, we have to equip ourselves for action at the local district and school level. In Napa County, we have found that there are a lot of assets that have gone underutilized and relatively little attention spent in addressing the institutional issues that have kept socio-economic barriers in place.
One of the greatest challenges in instituting equitable arts education is, of course, sustainable funding. While the ability to allocate arts funding through the district LCAPs and now through Title 1 funds is a huge advantage to arts advocates, we have found that it will take much more support than what our underfunded districts can do alone. As we have built our local action network, the ACNV Education Alliance, we have found a wealth of resources emerge from simply bringing together the local private resources (funders, teaching artists, arts nonprofits, voters and volunteers) with the educators. The networking alone has lead to new partnerships to serve diverse classrooms, but also has lead to rich conversations and strategies about the issues that are keeping access limited.
There were a few of key actions that I have been essential in building support for the ACNV Education Alliance and I would recommend these to any local advocacy network; a) agree on common terminology in your definition(s) of “arts education” (Are you focused on sequential standards based education, integration, enrichment programs, or simply increasing exposure?), b) develop and unite under a shared mission that puts student interests first, c) be conscious and respectful of the competing interests the district has to manage, d) involve the students in the process, e) be strategic and inclusive - don’t underestimate the importance of relationship and trust building in your planning, and, f) develop a cohort of funders, small and large, to partner in matching funds and collaborate on strategies. Through sticking with these strategies, we have found that passionate and intelligent partners have emerged and when conflicts inevitably arise, despite competing agendas that we are able to go back to the shared vision of equitable access and relevant arts education for ALL students as our primary objective.
Michele Seville: I think an appeal needs to be made to each County District, especially since federal money for the arts looks unlikely. Better at the county level than relying on the school boards, some of which are currently being challenged with regards to their use of funds.
Connie Martinez: I believe a system wide solution for K-12 arts education is beyond the capacity of regional arts leaders. Each school district has unique challenges and resources and so arts opportunities often need to be customized. In Silicon Valley, we have created a marketplace for teachers to “buy” Common Core inspired arts education from our arts ecosystem with mini grants through ArtsEdConnect, a technology platform that matches teachers needs and interests with arts education opportunities and providers like Starting Arts. Perhaps the regional opportunity is more around advocacy for the importance of STEAM, rather than STEM. And the sharing of best practices, models.
Tom DeCaigny: The challenges in arts education are often unique to a specific school district. A uniform solution for all districts in the greater Bay Area might not be effective in addressing those unique challenges. However, conversations at the regional level can provide insights into innovative strategies and promising practices. The San Francisco Arts Commission (SFAC) currently provides an annual operating grant to the Arts Education Alliance of the Bay Area to support their knowledge-sharing and regional convening efforts. In San Francisco, the SFAC and several other municipal agencies participate in an arts education taskforce that aims to advance the City’s Arts Education Master Plan. The SFAC works directly with the Department of Children, Youth and Their Families to enrich the out of school time programs in the school district which supplement the in-school arts education curriculum. In SF schools with limited resources, the SFAC has a grant program that places trained teaching artists at school sites for an entire school year. In addition to providing high quality arts education to students, the grant program aims to help the school build its capacity for providing a high-quality arts education to all students.
Equity, diversity and race remain high level priority issues for the entire nonprofit arts field. How are you addressing the challenges in your territory? Are the issues such that solutions will likely require a larger map approach, and is it incumbent on the whole Bay Area to work together for truly meaningful change? What are the principal roles LAAs can, and should, play, and what role does your organization favor?
Have a good day.