California’s visual and performing arts content standards are very ambitious and suggest the need for more instruction in the arts than any one teacher could provide. In light of the scope and depth of these standards and the very strained resources in our schools, it seems time to embrace a vision for a “shared delivery model” in which classroom teachers, arts specialists, and community arts resources collaborate and coordinate their efforts so that kids gain access to a truly comprehensive program. If we all work together in a coordinated fashion, the whole will be greater than the sum of the parts. In a fragmented or competitive scenario, students lose.
Wearing my hat as someone who provides arts programs to schools in a non-profit arts organization, I want to suggest the arts community needs to let go of some past paradigms if the vision of a true shared delivery model is to be realized. Specifically, we have two pieces of worn baggage we need to toss in the dumpster: the “arts as charity” model and the “arts organization as lone ranger” model.
The “arts as charity” model has dominated the world view of many arts organizations at least since 1978, when Proposition 13 resulted in major cuts to school arts programs. In this model, each fundraising appeal letter begins with this statement – “we all know there are no arts programs in our public schools. But thanks to your gift, at least X children will have exposure to the arts.” While big-hearted, this approach is counter-productive, If not harmful , to the cause of systemic arts education for all kids. It is harmful because it reinforces the bias of many educators that arts programs do not have a legitimate claim on school budgets. It is also harmful in that it may reinforce the view among donors and education leaders that we can never expect a reinvestment from schools and districts that would place the arts in the core curriculum for all students, not just the lucky few in a grant-funded charitable program.
The second piece of luggage we need to discard is the “lone ranger” model, where each arts organizations presents its’ work in isolation, and suggests or implies it has the magical ability to transform a school all by itself. The fact is that very few, if any, arts organizations have the capacity to achieve a year-long, sequential instructional program for an entire school in music, dance, theatre, and visual arts. In most cases, an arts organization has a specialty and expertise that can address one or a few pieces of a very large arts education puzzle. One group might provide matinee performances for school field trips. Another may send a teaching artist to lead a 14 week dance residency in four classrooms. A third may provide an introductory workshop for teachers tied to the collection in a museum. Yet for fundraising purposes, or perhaps our own ego, we communicate our work in isolation. We imply we are the only resource available to a school and promise to achieve transformative results all by ourselves. Sadly, this very isolation and fragmentation means that our individual efforts are not achieving a critical mass or impact. Imagine what could be possible, if several arts organizations worked in concert to collaborate with a single school to leverage all their resources for a much larger result.
While we know budgets are tight and finances can become very competitive, the fact is that California schools need more assistance and support than could ever be provided by the combined efforts of every existing non-profit arts agency in the state. So the good news is that there is more than enough “need” to go around. So rather than fight for isolated crumbs and programmatic fragments, imagine the difference we could make if we worked together in a collaborative partnership that linked arts resources, arts specialist teachers, and classroom teachers. Imagine the arts learning that could be provided if we worked in a true shared delivery model.