A number of cities have been working to reverse the decades-long decline in arts education by testing coordinated approaches to making high-quality arts learning more accessible in and out of school. Such approaches, in cities such as Dallas and Los Angeles, seek to mobilize a range of providers – schools, arts organizations and other community institutions, as well as public and private leaders and funders – to lift the quality and availability of arts learning for youngsters citywide.

Five major funders of such efforts gathered in Seattle on June 18-20, 2009 for one of the first national conferences on the subject. The event, titled AEQ: Access, Equity and Quality in Arts Learning, was hosted during the annual Americans for the Arts convention and brought together experts on arts learning as well as representatives and grantees of The Wallace Foundation, The Ford Foundation, The Grable Foundation, The Heinz Endowments, and The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The 80 participants represented programs in 15 cities and counties, nine states and the District of Columbia.

The four objectives of the conference were to:

  • Deepen understanding about the challenges and opportunities related to citywide or county coordinated arts learning initiatives;
  • Assist grantees in planning and program implementation by providing a forum to exchange ideas and experiences and to learn from outside experts;
  • Explore interest in future networking opportunities; and
  • Enable foundations supporting these efforts to share knowledge about arts learning issues and trends.

As described in a background paper, (click here) access, equity, and quality are common goals of coordinated arts learning initiatives.

View the following visual highlights from conference presentations and panels:

Culture, Racial Identity and Agency:
Probing the Possibilities of a Culturally Responsive Pedagogy

  • Dr. Mary Stone Hanley, George Mason University, keynote speaker

Dr. Hanley shared her recent research commissioned by The Heinz Endowments that addressed the connections between racial identity and success through arts learning. Dr. Hanley’s slides highlight the framework of this pedagogy using drama as an example, and promote the concepts of student empowerment and agency.
  To view Professor Hanley’s slideshow, click here. 

Strategies to Improve Access and Equity Panel

Going to Scale
  • Erin Offord, Director of Parent and Family Engagement, Big Thought
  • Funmi Okunbolade, Communications Manager, Big Thought

Going to scale to provide equitable access to quality arts learning is a challenge even under ideal circumstances, but when faced with incomplete data about local access to arts learning, organizations cannot make informed strategic decisions to address equity. Panelists shared their efforts to gather and analyze data to guide the allocation of funding, professional development, and methods they used to share their findings with partners and stakeholders.

Launched in 2007 in partnership with non-profit arts organizations, city agencies and the school system, the slides demonstrate how Dallas’s Thriving Minds is building a scalable model that gathers quantitative and qualitative data from students, parents and other key stakeholders to assess supply and demand for relevant arts programming, overcome geographic, socioeconomic and cultural barriers to access.
  To view a slideshow on Dallas’s Thriving Minds arts learning initiative, click here.

Using Data
  • Robin Lithgow, Advisor, Theatre Arts, LAUSD
  • Connie Covert, Coordinator, K-12 Arts Programming and Planning, LAUSD
  • Richard Burrows, Director of Arts Education, LAUSD

The Los Angeles Unified School District, (LAUSD) passed a resolution in 1999 to provide arts education for every child.  Since that time, LAUSD has been using school data to inform ongoing decisions about the allocation of resources for the arts. The slides outline a reflective process – information, implementation, and innovation - as the district prepares another 10-year arts education plan.
  To view a slideshow titled “I-Cubed” about the Los Angeles Unified School District’s second 10-year arts learning plan, click here.

Mapping Access
  • Katrina Woodworth, Senior Research Associate, SRI International

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation contracted with SRI International to conduct a series of studies entitled An Unfinished Canvas to examine students’ access to arts education in California schools. These slides summarize the findings and additional research that has taken place.
  For more about research on arts education in California, click here.

Improving and Evaluating Quality

Defining and promoting quality in arts learning takes many forms and the panelists from Big Thought and Alameda County Office of Education represented distinct approaches to establishing standards of quality in their communities.

Identifying Quality Indicators
  • Gigi Antoni, President & CEO, Big Thought
  • Jessica Malek, Associate Vice President, Big Thought 

Big Thought’s Thriving Minds initiative promises that all young people will have access to arts education and that the teaching and learning will be of the highest quality. To meet these objectives, Big Thought is working with a broad community of individuals to define and measure the current levels of quality. The slides outline how they are refining a tool and process for gathering data on quality and establishing a citywide baseline measures of excellence.
  To view a slideshow on Building and Sustaining A Quality System, click here.

Action Research and Studio Habits of Mind
  • Louise Music, Arts Learning Coordinator, Alameda County Office of Education – Alliance for Arts Learning Leadership

The Alameda County Office of Education slides illustrate its approach to define and support quality arts learning for all children.
  To view the slideshow, click here.

Building Public Will for Arts Education

  • Eric Friedenwald-Fishman, Creative Director/President, Metropolitan Group

Arts education is viewed by many Americans as a nicety, rather than a necessity. Eric Fishman advised advocates to position arts education – as well as imagination and creativity - as relevant and valuable by connecting arts learning to existing community values and needs.
  To view Friedenwald-Fishman’s slideshow presentation, click here.

Exploring an Interactive Sustainable Arts Learning Network

  • Cyrus Driver, Deputy Director, Education, Religion and Sexuality,
    The Ford Foundation
  • Michael Sikes, Senior Research Associate for Research and Policy,
    Arts Education Partnership

Facilitated by the presenters, the AEQ conference closed with a look toward the future interaction of the conferees. Building An Interactive Sustainable Network: A Briefing Paper, by the Art Education Partnership gave focus to the discussion and planning of such a network.

To learn more about this topic, download these publications from Wallace: