From Cranberry Bogs to Twitterfeeds and Blogs

Online Arts Education Resources

Published in: GIA Reader, Vol 21, No 2 (Summer 2010)

Julie Fry

I am fond of telling folks about my arts background, having grown up in the 1960s and ’70s in a town of two thousand people in central Wisconsin surrounded by cranberry bogs and paper mills. I didn’t see a professional arts performance until I was in high school, but from an early age my parents provided me with piano lessons and my school supplied me with an abundance of arts activities: bassoon lessons, chorus, marching band, art classes. My mother, a former third-grade teacher, by her own admission doesn’t have a lick of artistic skill, but she made sure that the arts were part of every student’s classroom experience, because that was part of the culture of the school district and, perhaps, of the time. Back in the day, we didn’t know it was called “arts education,” and we certainly assumed everyone else was able to participate in the arts to the same degree we did. Fast-forward thirty years, and what I completely took for granted is now something I work to build and sustain with many others across the country.

Over the past two years, rapid changes in economic and political fortunes due to the worldwide recession have in large part resulted in (1) a dynamic new presidential administration, with a renewed focus on education reform, and (2) a California state budget crisis that has resulted in the largest single budget cut ever made to public education in the state, a scenario that is playing out across the country. The risk of the arts being eliminated from the broader educational agenda is greater than ever, and against this very challenging landscape, we know that funders have a role to play to continue positioning the arts at the local and state level as central to a complete education.

As our focus on arts education has grown over the past few years at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, I have found myself relying on an array of information sources to build and update my knowledge of an increasingly complex and swiftly moving field, both to bolster my ability to conduct accurate funder due diligence and ultimately to recommend and evaluate grants that can bring access to arts education for all students a step closer. The tool I find most useful — and not least because it is open twenty-four hours a day — is the Internet, with its increasingly robust resources found online in a variety of formats. Here is a handful (among many) that I find particularly helpful as a grantmaker.

The Arts Education Partnership (AEP) (aep-arts.org) is a solid source of research on local, state, and national arts education policies and issues. The site has downloadable copies of key pieces of AEP’s arts education research and analyses, such as its interpretation of the 2008 National Assessment of Educational Performance in the Arts. The site also holds a well-organized and succinct database of 2007–2008 arts education policies and practices for all fifty states and the District of Columbia.

A new archive of arts education research emerging from nonprofit sources can be found at IssueLab (artsed.issuelab.org/research), which currently holds eighty-five such arts education reports on a plethora of topics, from evaluations of in-school arts education programs to integration of the arts across subject areas to assessment of student learning, and the site continues to grow, representing a number of different fields.

Americans for the Arts (artsusa.org) is an easy choice when it comes to an online advocacy destination, with its Arts Action Center connecting constituents with their elected officials on arts education policy issues, at both the federal and the state level. Particularly useful are the Legislative Alerts, which concisely describe the issues at hand.

Keep Arts in Schools (keepartsinschools.org) is a project of the Ford Foundation’s Integrating the Arts and Education Reform Initiative and an online community for arts education advocates with research, advocacy tools, and — of utmost interest as budgets plummet — talking points and critical messages on the value of a quality arts education. At the site’s core are nine arts education programs from across the country that serve as exemplars of how quality arts learning is happening.

As a strong example of online advocacy at the state level, I am always impressed by the depth and breadth of the California Alliance for Arts Education’s (artsed411.org) inclusion of research, legislative policy updates, and key state elections coverage. In particular, the results of a recent survey of candidates for state superintendent of public instruction that asked five key arts education questions were not only revealing, but the format used to share the responses was innovative and user-friendly and hopefully will be replicated (artsed411.org/educate/guide2.aspx).

When I want to take a look at hands-on materials for arts education practitioners in and outside classrooms, I head to ArtsEdge, the National Arts and Education Network from the Kennedy Center (artsedge.kennedy-center.org). The purpose of this site, which places the arts squarely at the center of the K–12 curriculum, is to provide teachers, artists, and students with a vast set of technology tools and lesson plans to integrate the arts with other subject areas. The Look•Listen•Learn feature is compelling and interactive: imagine learning about Martha Graham’s dances through the eyes of one of her dancers by riffling through his locker and reading his journals, complete with video clips, newspaper articles, and music (artsedge.kennedy-center.org/content/3674). If only my mother had had access to this site when she was looking for standards-based lesson plans that integrated the arts for her third-grade class.

Another resource for educators that I find enlightening is Designing the Arts Learning Community: A Handbook for K–12 Professional Development Planners (handbook.laartsed.org), an online-only resource created through a collaboration of the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, the San Francisco Arts Commission, and the Santa Clara County Office of Education and representing the best practices of fifty professional development programs nationwide in a searchable, interactive format.

For pure education policy information — because sometimes you just can’t sleep at night without the latest perspective on Race to the Top or the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act — I recommend EdSector (educationsector.org), which provides independent analysis of education issues. The “Browse by Issue” search feature is particularly
useful in such a heavily textual site.

The Center on Education Policy (cep-dc.org) is an independent advocate for public schools and provides information and research. Recent reports cover state test score trends and improving low-performing schools.

In the blogosphere, several sites are especially helpful and informative:

  • artsjournal.com/dewey21c. Written by Richard Kessler, executive director of the Center for Arts Education in New York, this must-read blog is accessible but always provocative. Kessler brings a deep expertise and a twinkle in his eye to his posts, with a focus on advocacy and public engagement in pursuit of the arts for every child.
  • blog.artsusa.org/category/arts-education. Americans for the Arts also hosts a blog with an arts education strand representing a diverse group of national perspectives.
  • naea.typepad.com. Hosted by the National Art Education Association, this teacher-oriented blog focuses on the visual arts.
  • eduwonk.com. Eduwonk provides education news, analysis, and commentary, as well as good information and excellent links to education research and other relevant blogs.

Oh, did I mention Twitterfeeds? I’m not quite there yet…but it’s only a matter of time.

Julie Fry is program officer, performing arts, with the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.