Thursday, May 20, 2010

Make Art Anyway

Arts Corps has been described as the biggest school in Seattle without a building. The non-profit network employs about 30 teachers who bring arts education to kids in underserved neighborhoods. In 2009 they brought arts classes to more than 3,000 students in 35 locations. This year Arts Corps was one of two established organizations selected to run the national pilot project MusicianCorps that has hired 21 teaching fellows to bring music classes to public schools, community centers, parks, and low-income housing across the country.

In Seattle, individual schools have been hacking away at their arts programs for 30 years. A 2009 district-wide survey of how much art instruction kids actually get revealed that local elementary students are lucky to get 10 hours of classes annually. Art and music are taught most, with theater a distant third. Yet there are dozens of studies which demonstrate that with arts education dropouts decrease, kids are more engaged in learning, and students develop learning skills that become habits that they are able to transfer into other aspects of their life.

Musician Corps is a kind of domestic Peace Corps for artists. It hires musicians to teach music, and then uses music as an avenue for civic engagement, community building, and making connections across culture, race and so on. According to Carla Moreno, the Honduran-born musician who is leading the Musician Corps program at Meadowbrook View Apartments in Lake City, “this is what it really looks like when you're serious about arts education for 'underserved' kids. It's the opposite of the classic, quick field trip—this is an immersion, and not just for kids, but for teachers who adjust to make it work, and adjust again, and again.”

The program's national administrators will study and assess its effectiveness in Seattle and the other participating cities - Chicago, San Francisco and New Orleans. They hope to show Congress that an Artist Corps deserves a fully funded place along with such service programs as Teach for America and the Peace Corps.

The Stranger had a terrific article last week about the program, including profiles of the four teachers running programs around the city. The full story is here.

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