The arts fuel creativity and learning, encouraging the development of important 21st century skills like critical thinking, collaboration, and self-discipline. Yet, in the current climate of arts and education funding, many children in underserved communities lack equitable access to arts programming that could enhance their learning experience. In the spring of 2015, ArtsWave embarked on a project to bridge the gap between the arts and underserved schools with special support from the Gladys and Ralph Lazarus Fund and Ladislas and Vilma Segoe Family Foundation.
Following a successful grantmaking partnership with LISC (Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky Local Initiatives Support Corporation) in the five Place Matters Neighborhoods of Avondale, Covington, Madisonville, Price Hill, and Walnut Hills, ArtsWave decided to intentionally layer additional arts resources, to benefit children in these neighborhoods during the 2014-2015 school year. With support from the Gladys and Ralph Lazarus Fund and Ladislas and Vilma Segoe Family Foundation, ArtsWave connected 19 in-school and afterschool programs with opportunities for arts programs including in-school performances, field trips, hands-on experiences, and specialized workshops.
These schools chose programming options from a menu of arts experiences offered by 15 ArtsWave grant recipients, including Bi-Okoto, Cincinnati Opera, Cincinnati Art Museum, Learning Through Art, The Children’s Theater of Cincinnati, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Pones Inc., and more. ArtsWave acted as the broker and paymaster, ensuring equitable access to resources by each of the schools. In just a few months, the program generated more than 9,200 touch points in the arts for children in those 19 schools/programs. Additionally, ArtsWave collected quantitative and qualitative feedback from both the arts providers and the school recipients to establish a baseline for arts exposure and a general reaction from the teachers and students to the offerings this first year. A few of our key learnings:
Our Place Matters redevelopment partners are great facilitators for building connections between ArtsWave, the school coordinators and the arts groups: Nickie Crutcher-Hudlin from the Cincinnati Arts Association (CAA) explains, “This grant allowed us access five new schools and expanded our services into the summer months through the connections we made. ”
Students want more opportunities to connect with a broad range of arts: Exposure to professional arts programming, prior to this opportunity was restricted, in most schools, to internal visual art and music instruction. This reinforces the findings of our previous research. Frederick Douglass Elementary School, in Walnut Hills noted, “Enrichment activities were limited to those children who accessed art classes after school. We have some children with artistic talents, but they don’t get to utilize their skills during the school day. Some students didn’t know they were naturally inclined to be artistic until the arts groups Finding Your Voice Through Hip Hop, Bi-Okoto, and Pones, Inc. gave them the opportunity to express themselves through music and dance!”
The schools appreciated that the offerings ranged in varying degrees of breadth and depth: By giving schools choices, ArtsWave made it easy for teachers to select experiences that would be most impactful for their students’ development. The Menu of Arts Experiences prompted Covedale Elementary to bus 545 students to a first-time Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO) Young Peoples Concert.
Several schools enjoyed artist residencies like those offered by Drums for Peace and Pones, Inc., something they would not normally have had resources to do. Pones, Inc., executive director Kim Popa noted,” The students looked forward to our arrival every Thursday. Their favorite experience was to collectively produce a choreographed dance piece.”
Other relationships were even more high-touch. Utilizing board-certified music therapist Shelly Zeizer, Melodic Connections worked with twelve students with cognitive delays over an 11-week period at Oyler School. Working with the teachers, Melodic Connections developed interventions to help these students practice letter sounds, sound/phoneme blending, fluency, and phoneme designation. Shelley wrote, “In our final songwriting project, student proudly said their specific line into the microphone and took part in all decision-making aspects of the song, which communicated to me that they felt their opinions were valued and their voices deserved to be heard.”
Support from the Lazarus Fund and Segoe Family Foundation has allowed ArtsWave to take an important next step in building reciprocal relationships, catalyzing cultural activity and enriching the lives of underserved and at-risk young people in designated neighborhoods. Now that the groundwork has been laid and initial connections established, we look forward to building on this momentum.