What’s the Big Idea in Arts Education?

Advocacy for an Equitable and Just Mission

Published in: GIA Reader, Vol 26, No 2 (Summer 2015)

Margaret Hasse
Presentations and white papers presented at Grantmakers for the Arts Every Child, Every School forum for funders in Minneapolis, May 7, 2015, can be found here.

Grantmakers in the Arts hosted Every Child, Every School, a national open forum, for its members at the Target Corporate Headquarters in Minneapolis on May 7, 2015. The event drew forty-one arts education funders, featured nine presenters, and involved three GIA staff and two GIA lobbyists. GIA Executive Director Janet Brown facilitated the agenda. Tish Jones, spoken word artist and founder of TruArtSpeaks, underscored the importance and urgency of arts education for all youth. She reflected on the day’s content and discussions, concluding, “Our work over the past thirty years has been good; our work over the next thirty years must be meaningful.”

Funding Trends and Rationale for Foundation Funding of Advocacy

Richard Kessler, dean of Mannes College, The New School for Music, responded to the GIA report Foundation Funding for Arts Education: An Update on Foundation Trends. He pointed out that private philanthropy represents less than 13 percent of arts education funding nationwide for K–12 children and youth. Rather than only funding programs that augment what the public schools do, a far better return on foundations’ investment derives from using limited private funds to leverage public resources for arts education.

According to Kessler, “A low-cost but persistent advocacy effort in California opened access in all states to $1.6 billion in federal funding of arts education.” The California Alliance for Arts in Education, a nonprofit organization with an annual operating budget of just over $500,000, secured a clarification that Title I funding to improve academic achievement of the disadvantaged can be used for arts education.

The support of advocates and advocacy are a direct route to enduring educational change for disenfranchised and vulnerable people. Equitable opportunity in arts education is an issue of social justice; thus, a 2010 recommendation of the National Committee for Responsible Philanthropy is applicable: grantmakers should provide grant dollars for “advocacy, organizing, and civic engagement to promote equity, opportunity, and justice.”

Funders cannot afford to operate only on the margins of the school education system. Think about your portfolios. Foundations need to take some of your money and move it into advocacy to increase public funding for arts education.
— Richard Kessler

Local Approaches and Education and Advocacy within Foundations

Daniel Windham, director of arts, The Wallace Foundation, spoke of powerful local policy approaches, as well as the important work within foundations to advocate not only for funding arts education programs but also for arts education advocacy. He described three arts education challenges in the field: access, equity, and quality. Coordinated and concerted school-community efforts are necessary to navigate what Windham called “the churning waters” of the public education system, where change is constant. A practical way to assure arts for all students is to make the target a complete education. This changes the conversation. It opens the door to common cause with various stakeholders’ interest in school improvement, notably with school principals, who greatly influence whether the arts are included in the curriculum.

Janet Brown pointed out that education and advocacy within GIA garnered a commitment by the board to a legislative presence in Washington, D.C. She emphasized that it is legal for foundations to fund advocacy, and for nonprofit organizations to advocate and to lobby. “Environmental and health funders know how to use their resources to change policy,” Brown said. “Arts supporters are a little behind. It’s our turn to get involved.”

I propose taking ideas and information about arts education and advocacy to your foundation colleagues and leaders. Work to change policies and practices within your organizations, which is like other advocacy and organizing efforts.
— Richard Kessler

Effective Coalitions Change Local Access and Equity

Five local leaders of successful, cross-sector coalitions for programming and advocacy at the school, district, city, or county level described the ventures: Laura Perille, from Boston’s EdVestors; Paul Sznewajs, from Chicago’s Ingenuity; Gigi Antoni, from Dallas’s Big Thought; Denise Grande, from Los Angeles’s Arts for All; and Lara Davis, from Seattle’s The Creative Advantage. The leader of the coalition is most often an independent nonprofit supported by local funders, but a public entity can also be effective in this role as long as it can cede power outside official government channels.

All the collaborations seek equitable opportunity by coordinating and aligning arts education resources to school and classroom needs. Although one group might advocate arts in the classroom for its own sake, and another, arts as an aid to educational improvement, all the groups advocate good practice, good policies, and enforcement. Increased public funding has resulted. In Boston, public funding of arts education increased threefold, enabling 120 additional arts teachers to teach fourteen thousand more children. In Dallas, too, policies are in place for arts specialists in every school.

To sustain gains in school-based arts education, the coalitions aim to engage and give ownership to diverse community advocates. These include students, parents, and teachers — particularly teachers of the arts. Authentic involvement of cultural groups is a goal of the Seattle-based coalition. In Boston, according to Perille, “We are figuring out how to liberate parents’ voices so they say arts education is an expectation.” In Los Angeles County, Arts for All has selected, trained, and activated a network of what it calls arts education “activators” to carry out advocacy plans.
Several coalitions are working to expand their influence beyond the school day. Dallas plans to tackle quality arts programming during out-of-school time (OST) and summer. The Seattle coalition intends to unlock early childhood allocations and include the arts.

School systems can be difficult partners, as they are not flexible; it’s hard to get in and stay in through changes. But schools can deliver access to all. Civic engagement of the community makes the difference. You want many people to be involved in the movement. If anyone tried to cut arts out of the Dallas school district budget, there’d be lots of protest.
— Gigi Antoni, Big Thought, Dallas
When a consortium of foundations came into the area, someone said, “Who is we?” The we is everyone. You might roll your eyes about the term “collective impact,” but that’s what it’s been, that’s what happened. People must cede some control over who owns this work. We gotta get over it. We have to cede power, and we have to step up to make change.
— Paul Sznewajs, Ingenuity
All solutions are local. We can learn from each other, be inspired. But we can’t plop down what one city is doing and expect it to thrive elsewhere. Be aware of unique issues in cultural access and politics. We do all have the same target goals, the same mission — access, equity, and quality.
— Janet Brown, GIA
Advocacy for arts education is so complex and complicated. Leadership is critical, both in foundations and in communities. Funders can bring a bigger picture.
— Gigi Antoni, Big Thought, Dallas
What I’ve heard is discover, develop, share, study, share, challenge, cultural relevance, succession, and transform.
— Tish Jones, spoken word artist and founder, TruArtSpeaks

GIA’s Federal Legislative Activity

Alex Nock and Kara Marchione of the Penn Hill Group gave an overview of their work on behalf of GIA’s interests. Most of GIA’s legislative work relates to core federal funding of elementary and secondary education schools. The Penn Hill update enumerated youth-related legislation where the arts are or should be included, for example, in Head Start, early childhood, juvenile justice, and delinquency prevention.

Big Data Harnessed for Arts Education Advocacy

Bob Morrison, founder and CEO of Quadrant Research, a leading arts education research entity, spoke to the need for educated opinions. “The knowledge we need to move toward every child, every school,” he said, “is how many schools are providing arts instruction, and in what subjects. Who gets an arts instruction? Who does not? How does this change over time?”

If we want the arts for every child, how will we know when we get there if we do not even bother to count?
— Bob Morrison, founder and CEO of Quadrant Research

Developing public infrastructure for consistent reporting and collection of school-based data in many curriculum areas, including the arts, has taken thirty years. New Jersey was the first state to complete a statewide census of arts education in every school building. “It’s been transformative,” Bob asserts. The information prompted accountability for the state arts graduation requirement and many other actions that expanded student access to the arts.

Data gives credibility. It educates the community about how its local schools measure up. It aids community engagement and advocacy for policy decisions and implementation.
— Bob Morrison, founder and CEO of Quadrant Research

Based on the New Jersey success, the Arts Education Data Project is under way to measure and compare arts program availability and participation state by state. Arts education directors of several states have secured public and private funds to work with Quadrant Research and make the data accessible in a dashboard format for public use. The goal is to involve all states.

Takeaways from the Forum

Participants described ideas from the forum they would like to share with colleagues and leaders to educate and advocate for good grantmaking policies and practices within their philanthropic organizations. The ideas most often named clustered around five topics.

  1. Grantmakers need a common mission in arts education. To be equitable and socially just, grantmakers’ shared arts education mission must be every child, every school.
  2. Supporting advocacy efforts focused on elementary and secondary schools has potential for great impact. Within the total amount of funding for arts education nationwide, private funding accounts for approximately 13 percent of the whole, and public dollars account for approximately 87 percent. Grantmakers need to leverage their investment by funding more advocacy and civic engagement to promote systematic change in opportunity in elementary and secondary schools. Long-lasting availability of quality arts education for all children requires funders to go beyond support of programs to also support civic engagement and advocacy for arts education.

    It is legal and cost-effective for foundations to fund advocacy efforts and for nonprofit organizations to engage in advocacy and in lobbying for policies and public resources.

    The rate of return of funders’ investment in arts education advocacy has been exponentially high in terms of influence on public funding. A low-cost effort in California resulted in clarification that arts education is among the permissible uses of billions of Title I and Title II dollars nationwide.

  3. Grantmakers can support, learn from, and help replicate successful advocacy change strategies. Arts learning can be successfully advocated on its own merits and in coalition with allies in broader educational improvement efforts. Although advocacy efforts should not be under the direct control of the public system, a variety of internal and external stakeholders and allies contribute to vital and informed coalitions, including policymakers, funders, school principals, parents, teachers, artists, and students. Effective advocacy, policy, and practice inform and influence one another.

    Funders in the arts education field can study effective strategies of coalitions that provide or coordinate programs, develop leaders, engage in community organizing, advocate for arts in education — and achieve worthy outcomes. Boston’s EdVestors, Chicago’s Ingenuity, Dallas’s Big Thought, Los Angeles’s Arts for All, and Seattle’s The Creative Advantage are multifaceted exemplars working at the school, district, city, or county level.

  4. Excellent new art educational data are available to inform decisions. Effective arts education advocacy, policy, and practice depend on reliable data. Up-to-date school-by-school statistics regarding arts education provision and participation levels are available in states that buy into the Arts Education Data Project. Additional states need incentive to participate in the Arts Education Data Project. More can be done to collect, share, analyze, interpret, and use various kinds of data to forge constructive policymaking.
  5. To be real, policy must be enforced. Establishing policy is a necessary step in the change process, but enforcing policy causes actual change at the local school and school district level. Enforcing policy requires vigilance by the public. Equal access to arts can be considered a civil rights issue with potential for litigation because of unequal distribution.

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