How Triangle Schools Keep Art in Education


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Think back to your favorite school memories. Chances are, one or two of them involve art — and may have even inspired you to seek out a hobby or career in the arts. Whether making a collage in art class, singing in a choir or taking a field trip to see a performance, the arts play an important role in rounding out a quality education.

In the wake of the recession, many states have cut funding for school arts programs. North Carolina is no exception — squeezed budgets have forced public schools to get creative with how they make arts accessible to students.

“There is a statewide mandate to have arts education, arts integration and arts exposure well represented in the schools, but the mandate is unfunded,” says N.C. Arts Council Arts in Education Director Banu Valladares.

Fortunately, North Carolina is home to many passionate artists and advocates who have stepped up to help keep the arts a vibrant part of North Carolina’s public education landscape. Whether their support involves helping teachers learn how to integrate arts into the new Common Core State Standards curriculum, or providing resources for schools to host musical performances, many Triangle artists and advocates are working to fill the gaps.

Teachers in Training

Training teachers with national models to take innovative approaches to arts integration is one way to keep the arts a vital part of everyday instruction. The United Arts Council of Raleigh, N.C. Arts Council and Durham Arts Council all offer resources that can fulfill continuing education credits and inspire new ideas in the classroom.

The United Arts Council of Raleigh’s Arts Integration Institute (unitedarts.org/artsed/aii) gives teachers hands-on opportunities to learn art-teaching techniques from renowned North Carolina artists. The N.C. Arts Council offers an A+ Schools Program to combine interdisciplinary teaching and daily arts construction (aplus-schools.ncdcr.gov). And the Durham Arts Council provides educators with arts-integrated teaching plans and other resources (durhamarts.org/teaching_artist.html).

Making sure all children — no matter what their limitations are — engage with existing art programs can be a struggle for teachers. Arts Access trains teachers to develop strategies for making their curricula accessible to children with disabilities.

“We did a big workshop last March in Cary where we invited teaching artists to come,” says Betsy Ludwig, Arts Access’ program director. “The keynote address was about making the arts accessible; for example, how to include children with autism, how to include a kid who uses a computer to talk. We help art instructors by thinking about what they do and offering ideas about how they can include all kids.”

Creative Learning

Planning arts curricula takes time many teachers don’t have. The United Arts Council (in Wake County) and the Durham Arts Council have both created ready-to-go curricula that integrate the arts and conform to state educational standards, making it easy for schools to implement.

Every August, the United Arts Council hosts a booking fair — a day-long event that offers representatives who book programs for their schools an opportunity to meet with the artists and performers who make up the Artists in the Schools programs. The Durham Arts Council hosts a similar event for its Creative Arts in the Public/Private Schools (CAPS) program. Teachers and PTA representatives come to browse the offerings and make selections for the upcoming school year. From African drumming to puppet-making, there is something for all ages and interests.

Although there is a booking fee, arts councils work hard to make sure all schools can pay for some of these resources. “The Durham Public School district partners with the CAPS program, and all Durham Public Schools have a CAPS budget they can use, based on enrollment,” says Shanna Adams, manager of the CAPS program.

The N.C. Arts Council compiles an arts curriculum available to schools for a small fee. “We offer district-wide performances, such as the John Brown Jazz Orchestra, that reach 500-1,000 students at a time. The N.C. Arts Council covers the artists’ fees, and the school district and the venue cover transportation,” Valladares says. “These performances are a whole package. They come with a teacher workshop that prepares all the educators to understand the art form and prepare students for the program.”

Partnering Up

Many private companies in the Triangle also invest in keeping the arts in schools. GlaxoSmithKline and Wells Fargo have made important contributions to schools in Raleigh, and a grant from Verizon allowed CAPS to offer 53 programs in 14 low-resource schools.

“The Durham Arts Council writes grants so we can re-grant to schools,” Adams says. “Target and Office Depot also offer matching grants so schools can apply for these.”

This past fall, DreamWorks Animation and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment donated $50,000 to the National Association for Music Education, a nonprofit with a  mission to support school music and arts programs. In celebration of the Blu-ray and DVD release of Shrek the Musical, this donation will be used to create five $10,000 grants to help save music and arts programs in schools.

Perhaps one of the most important partners in public school art education is the PTA. Every year, the National PTA Reflections program offers students from kindergarten through 12th grade the opportunity to earn local, state and national recognition for original artwork. Many Triangle schools participate in this competition, which is organized by parents and accepts submissions in the categories of dance choreography, film production, literature, music composition, photography and visual arts.

Advocating Change

Aside from training instructors, advocacy is a primary task of Arts Access, Ludwig says. "We do advocacy and training about what their requirements are under the law, and offer our expertise to other arts organizations to help them figure out what they need to do to be welcoming."

Triangle ArtWorks, a nonprofit with a mission to provide services, support and resources for ensuring a vibrant creative community throughout the Triangle, believes teaching artists to advocate for themselves is critical.

"The arts community is important, but as a whole, they have no power. Everyone looks at them individually," says Elizabeth Yerxa, executive director of Triangle ArtWorks. "We work with artists and teach them how to advocate for themselves. We recognize the arts as an industry group, much like plumbers or lawyers or doctors. Mostly sole proprietors, small business and nonprofits. They bring lots of money into the community and are important for education."

Valladares agrees, and emphasizes that the arts are a fundamental part of a complete education. "The arts are important because they help create people who are compassionate and empathetic," she says. "Without the arts, children aren't getting a well-rounded education."

Jill Moffett is a freelance writer and full-time mother in Durham. She blogs regularly at jillmoffett.com.

Drawing on Parents

Wondering how you can help keep the arts an important part of public education? Here are five ways to increase access to the arts in your child’s school.

 Learn about available arts programs. Keep your eyes and ears open for tips about programs and performances that might be of interest to your child’s school, and be ready to share the information.

Put art on the PTA agenda. If you haven’t joined your school’s PTA yet, do it now. PTA representatives often attend arts council fairs at the beginning of the school year to choose performances.

Donate supplies from home. Remember that request from your child’s art teacher for egg cartons and toothpicks? She was serious! Start collecting now. It makes a difference!

Share your skills. Offer to lead a poetry workshop, teach block printing, run a mixed media tutorial or share your expertise in swing dancing.

Encourage your workplace to get involved. United Arts encourages matching funds. GlaxoSmithKline has been a major funder of arts in the schools through United Arts. Perhaps your company can join in the fun.

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