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Boston Arts Efforts May Be Eliminated

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Prior to court-ordered desegregation more than seven years ago, Boston's public schools were virtually without an arts-education curriculum.

Since that time, however, the city's students have been able to participate in a broad range of cultural-arts programs due to a proliferation of state and federal laws that provide funds to programs designed not only to promote arts education, but to dissolve ethnic and racial barriers among students.

But, in a pattern likely to be repeated across the country, one highly successful arts-education program in Boston will close soon, and the survival of other remaining projects is in question.

Although Massachusetts is one of the few states that have enacted laws providing financial assistance for desegregation efforts (including the cultural-enrichment programs), the passage of Proposition 2--a statewide property-tax-limitation measure that has had the effect of placing a ceiling on educational funds--combined with the reduction and "block-granting" of federal funds will mean the end of efforts like "Tryarts," an artist-in-residence program which receives the bulk of its support from the U.S. Department of Education's special-projects grants.

Popular Program

Tryarts will be eliminated in July, reported Robin Barlow, the project director. She said the program was trimmed 25 percent this year, from $100,000 to $75,000. She said the program has become popular with local school officials because they are responsible for designing the curriculum around an art form and for choosing and hiring the artist.

Only five of 25 public schools that applied to the program actually received a grant for this year. Ms. Barlow added that 24 schools have participated in the past five years.

"We're telling the schools that want to continue with Tryarts to apply for Section 636 funds," Ms. Barlow said, referring to a segment of the state's "Racial Imbalance Act," enacted in 1965 and amended in 1974 to include aid for desegregation programs.

But participants who wish to continue Tryarts on an individual basis will almost certainly find themselves in stiff competition for those Section 636 funds with programs like the Cultural Education Collaborative.

A nonprofit organization which pairs cultural institutions with public schools in the Boston area, the collaborative has been the most instrumental statewide agent in promoting cultural-enrichment programs. During its first year of operation in the 1974-75 school year, it successfully brought together 11 Boston schools and 10 suburban schools with cultural institutions for arts-education programs.

The collaborative has grown over the years to involve students and teachers from more than 100 schools in the Boston area with actors, dancers, visual artists, musicians, scientific institutions, and collections of paintings and historical artifacts.

The organization's main emphasis has been in bettering relations among the various racial and ethnic groups in the Boston area through the arts, according to Marta Roboff, a coordinator for the Boston-based collaborative. Cultural-arts programs are among the best ways of breaking down racial stereotypes and barriers, according to a number of race-relations studies.

However, the continuation of some of collaborative's programs is in jeopardy, Ms. Roboff told workshop participants at the annual meeting of National Committee for School Desegregation this month.

Ms. Roboff said the collaborative has been "level funded" for the past four years, receiving more than $4 million this year through Section 636--but that will change, she added. Since the enactment of Proposition 2 in November 1980, the availability of state funds has been limited.. As a result, Ms. Roboff predicted, school districts will be using section 636 funds differently.

"I think more of them will be using their funds for multi-cultural programs to shore up depleted staff rather than the resources we've provided in the past," she said.

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