DIA, DSO, MOT look at ways to boost arts education in Detroit schools

Three of Detroit’s top cultural institutions are talking about how they can collaborate to strengthen arts education in Detroit public schools.

The collaboration, still in its early stages, could add resources to a district that has seen steep cuts in arts programs and only offers them in some schools.

Spurred by an unnamed art collector and education supporter, the leaders of the Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Michigan Opera Theatre met in June to begin exploring development of interdisciplinary art programs for students in the district.

The three declined to comment on the developing collaboration, citing the early stage of conversations, but DIA Director Salvador Salort-Pons wrote about it in a recent newsletter.

The DIA currently provides art activities for about 70,000 students in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties each year and hosts field trips to expose the younger generations to its collection, he said.

“Now imagine the impact if we combined our work with that of the MOT and DSO into a purposeful strategy with specific goals and measurements to evaluate the progress and effect of such programs on the life of our students.”

During their first meeting last month, the three institutions talked about collaborating on programs where music, performing and visual arts would intersect, Salort-Pons said.

DPSCD offers arts programs only in select schools, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said in an emailed statement.

“The opportunity moving forward is to develop a comprehensive and districtwide art and music vision to ensure all of our schools and students have access to art and music programming,” he said.

Arts education funding is set to decrease by $300,000 in the coming academic year.

“The decision to reduce arts funding … by the previous administration is unfortunate, but we will revisit this decision to ensure all committed art and music programming is continued and offered next year,” Vitti said.

As arts have been cut out of public school budgets over the past 20 years, arts organizations have tried to fill the breach, said Michael Kaiser, chairman of the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the University of Maryland and the former head of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

“The problem is that the experiences of a given child are episodic and not coordinated. So consortia efforts make a lot of sense.”

Interdisciplinary arts education programs spurred by the discussions would build on both the DIA activities for youth and programs offered by MOT and DSO.

MOT’s current programming includes summer performance camps and school opera workshops. This fall, it’s scheduled to bring touring productions of children’s operas “Rumpelstiltskin” and “La Pizza Con Funghi” to area schools, libraries and community centers.

The DSO provides an educational concert series for students, with concerts thematically designed to accompany teacher resources.

This fall, it plans to launch the free, entry-level instrument program, the Dresner Foundation Allegro Ensemble, in a Detroit school. And it is planning residencies at Detroit schools where students will create their own operatic piece that relates to the history of Detroit’s Negro League baseball team, the Detroit Stars, with modern-day themes of equity and inclusion as part of the “Take Me Out to the Opera” initiative, MOT’s communications manager Erica Hobbs said in an email.

Arts organizations in other parts of the country have had success in bolstering arts education through efforts such as the “Ensuring the Arts for Any Given Child,” a program Kaiser launched in 2009 while at the Kennedy Center.

The program brings together arts, education, philanthropic, government and business organizations within a city to develop a plan that ensures access and equity to arts education for K-8 students.

“This is larger than focusing on the curriculum,” said Jordan LaSalle, director of education operations for the Kennedy Center.

“It’s really about … ensuring students have access to arts education across the board and building a strategy around that.”

Communities apply to the Kennedy Center for consulting assistance and about $125,000 in funding to support convening a team of about 30 local stakeholders to develop a plan for providing equitable, consistent arts education in a local district. Typically, one or more arts organizations initiate the effort in their community, but the model can also be spurred by schools, a local bank or another organization in the community, LaSalle said.

Each community is required to provide a $25,000 match over four years to help support the program.

None of the work is meant to replace or supplant arts education provided by certified arts educators in the schools, she said. “The teachers and schools are still considered the anchors of that. It’s looking at strategic partnerships to enhance what the schools are already doing.”

To date, the program has helped spur collaborations in 23 cities across 19 states and the Puerto Rico, from large urban districts to small, rural districts.

Arts education requirements, especially at the K-8 level, are different across the board in states, cities and even within school districts, LaSalle said.

Some districts might not have arts education programmed in a consistent way every year, she said. Others might have a strong focus on music and visual art such as painting, but not offer students access to other performing arts such as theater and dance.

Arts education helps student engagement, which in turn improves school attendance, LaSalle said.

And research has shown that better attendance leads to higher student achievement and fewer discipline issues, she said.

“We make the case that the arts are a civil right and influence children in positive ways.”

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