Federal Grants to Fuel Arts Education Smorgasboard

By Erik W. Robelen — April 26, 2012 3 min read
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Poetry workshops. Composing and performing operas. Studying sculpture and still-life painting. Staging Shakespeare in the schools. Creating an animated film. Even getting an introduction, yes, to “theatrical circus arts.”

These are among the activities inside and outside schools slated to get an infusion of federal support under a new round of federal grants announced yesterday by the National Endowment for the Arts.

In all, the independent federal agency announced plans to award 928 grants totaling $77 million to nonprofit organizations nationwide. Although the grants go far beyond arts education, that particular domain is getting plenty of attention.

In all, more than 100 of the grants are explicitly categorized by the endowment as “arts education,” but in scanning the database of grants, it became clear that this didn’t tell the whole story. Plenty of examples outside that realm had a connection to schools and students as well.

“The arts should be a part of everyday life,” Rocco Landesman, the chairman of the endowment, said in a press release on the new grants. “Whether it’s seeing a performance, visiting a gallery, participating in an art class, or simply taking a walk around a neighborhood enhanced by public art, these grants are ensuring that across the nation, the public is able to experience how art works.”

The announcement comes several weeks after the federal agency issued a report finding that at-risk youths with a history of intensive arts experiences enjoy better academic outcomes and are more civicly engaged than disadvantaged students who largely miss out on the arts.

The endowment grants offer a window into some intriguing examples of arts education in schools and communities nationwide. Here’s a quick sampling:

• $35,000: Architecture Resource Center (New Haven, Conn.)
To support a design education initiative that brings architects, city planners, and museum educators together with teachers to help integrate the design arts into the classroom curriculum.

• $33,000: Atlanta Shakespeare Co.
Middle and high school students will learn all aspects of performance and theater, attend professional productions, and mount fully staged productions at school and in the community.

• $25,000: Bethune Theatredanse (Los Angeles)
To support a dance-instruction program for special-needs students, in partnership with the Pasadena (Calif.) school district.

• $20,000: Circus Day Foundation (Florissant, Mo.)
To support Circus Harmony, a theatrical circus-arts program. Students work with professional circus educators, choreographers, costume designers, and musicians to learn theatrical circus skills through skills-based classes and perform for the public.

• $20,000: Country Music Foundation (Nashville, Tenn.)
To support Words and Music, a program teaching students in grades 3-12 to write original songs. As part of the program, language arts and music teachers will be trained to guide students through the process of lyrics writing.

• Jacob Burns Film Center: $25,000 (Pleasantville, N.Y.)
In partnership with the Yonkers (N.Y.) school district, professional animators will work with students to create an animated film and present the work to the community at a “red carpet premiere.”

• $75,000 Metropolitan Opera Guild (New York City)
To support opera-based teaching and learning in public elementary schools in New York City, New Jersey, and Boston. Students will be supported in composing and performing their own operas.

• $22,000: Sonoran Art Foundation (Tucson, Ariz.)
Students will learn “centuries-old” glassmaking techniques through this youth glass-arts-education program.

• $34,000: Street Poets (Los Angeles)
To support poetry-writing workshops targeting high-risk youths in Los Angeles high schools, juvenile detentions, and community centers.

Who knows? Maybe I can talk my editor into sending me out to take a closer look at one or two of these initiatives in practice!

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.