I had an “aha” moment recently listening to Jonathan Katz, executive director of the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies speak to New Jersey funders. I was reminded of the hard work we did in the 90s to get the arts into national and state education standards and the arguments we used to get there. It’s time to revisit those arguments after a long draught of “teaching to math and reading tests” brought on in 2000 by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act dubbed No Child Left Behind.
I once said to a gubernatorial candidate, “I want you to take the arts out of the box you’ve put them in and think about it differently.” The state senator who had set up the meeting looked at me like I was crazy. I knew I was in risky territory. This was an elected official who wasn’t an “arts” guy. You wouldn’t find him at the symphony, opera, museum or theatre, at least not willingly. I knew I had to approach asking for his support in a different way.
There comes a point when our professional lives are informed not just by statistics, consultants or wise mentors but also by plain common sense based on personal knowledge and experience. The survey released April 2 by the Department of Education has my common sense antenna about ready to explode. Just one example: 94% of all American elementary schools offer music programs. Really? What does that mean?
What does it mean to “support a creative America?” Do we think of major arts institutions that are the pride of many communities? Do we think of the music we listen to, books we read, film we just saw, or building design that impressed us? Do we think about innovators and designers who create systems and products that drive markets and trends? Do we think about the choir at our church or our children’s performances in the play at school? At Grantmakers in the Arts (GIA), we think of it all.
Grantmakers in the Arts (GIA), a national association of private, public and nonprofit arts funders, has for some years had a goal of advocacy and policy development. This week, GIA launches the Arts Education Funders Coalition to specifically identify and advocate for arts in federal education policies. GIA has contracted with the Penn Hill Group, an experienced education policy firm in Washington DC to guide us in this work.
The questions might be “why are grantmakers doing this?” and “why federal education policy?”
The entire world is aware that 2012 is an election year for the United States. The year ahead will be filled with different ideas of how we face the challenges of financial inequities, immigration, education, world affairs, unemployment, housing, the arts and more. We will have to wait to see how this election plays out but as with every election, because we are a self-determining democracy, we believe there is hope for change, for justice, for children and families, for a better world. We elect to be eternal optimists.
The role of a chief executive officer (CEO) of a nonprofit organization is challenging in very interesting ways. We are asked to lead an organization without actually being the leadership or governing entity of the organization. We are asked to be visionaries and managers, transformational and transactional leaders at the same time.
Grantmakers in the Arts started to look at how organizations are capitalized in 2010. This was inspired by member studies that reported that a majority of their grantees were under-capitalized…meaning their didn’t have enough resources, primarily financial resources, to fulfill their missions over time. Big surprise? Not for anyone working in the nonprofit world for more than six months.
In 2012, Grantmakers in the Arts will form the Arts Education Funders’ Coalition. The Coalition will consist of funders concerned with the inequities of our public education system and determined that their investments should not be undermined by federal policy that ignores those inequities. Simply put, arts education is not equitably offered to all American children. Although there are national and state standards and regulations, we have been unsuccessful in creating an educational system where arts education is delivered to every child, in every school, every day.
Equity is at the core of this moment in our country's history. Occupy America continues to remind us of the inequities that have become the reality of the American dream. Once held in esteem because it was within reach of all Americans, the dream is fading in a country where poverty continues to increase, jobs are at a premium and politicians don’t realize their “team” is not one party but an entire country, and it’s losing.