Fund Awards New York Schools $1.78 Million for Arts

By Jonathan Weisman — February 27, 1991 2 min read

Arts and music education have disappeared from most of New York City’s schools, a task force has found, warning that the loss could lead someday to a “Big Apple” without home-grown performers or audiences to watch them.

In response to the problems raised by the report this month, however, the New York-based DeWitt Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund has awarded a $1.78-million grant aimed at bridging the gap between the vast artistic resources of the nation’s cultural capital and its financially beleaguered schools.

The task force, appointed last year by Schools Chancellor Joseph A. Fernandez, found that two-thirds of the 600 public elementary schools do not have any art or music teachers, while many high schools have too few to meet minimum state curriculum requirements.

During the city’s fiscal crisis in the mid-1970’s, the report noted, 14,000 teachers were laid off--and art and music teachers were the first to go.

A lost generation of New York artists and performers could jeopardize the city’s $7-billion arts and culture industry, task-force members warned.

“Clearly our schools never recovered from these cuts, a grim warning since we are now facing even more drastic cuts in the coming years,” Mr. Fernandez said in a news release on the report.

The New York State Board of Regents mandates that 10 percent of weekly instruction in grades 1-3 be spent on visual art, with another 10 percent devoted to music. City rules require six months of classes in art and six months in music at the high-school level.

Currently, most courses do not meet the standards, the report said.

Low-Cost Approaches

With further cuts impending, the city will probably not allocate the $24 million needed to restore the necessary staff members, admitted Beth Lief, executive director of the Fund for New York City Public Education and a task-force member.

But, she said, imaginative use of New York’s arts community in the schools and collaboratives with arts institutions off school grounds could provide a low-cost alternative.

The Reader’s Digest Fund’s three-year grant will seek to create such links by enabling schools to build partnerships with a broad range of institutions, including historical societies, museums, zoos, botanical gardens, and environmental centers.

Ms. Lief, whose group will coordinate the project, hopes it will see the school system through its current crisis and establish a strong base of relationships that will carry on and spread to other schools not involved.

A minimum of 15 schools will receive grants of up to $10,000 each during the first year of the program. Another 40 schools will receive grants of $5,000 in subsequent years.

In addition, some 15 of the city’s 32 community school districts and six high-school superintendencies will get grants of $10,000 each to promote arts and cultural programming.

A version of this article appeared in the February 27, 1991 edition of Education Week as Fund Awards New York Schools $1.78 Million for Arts