Posts Tagged ‘performing art’

Theatre Students Bring a Message to Sacramento

March 30, 2010

March 30, 2010

On March 16, 2010, over three hundred theatre students, theatre educators, friends and school administrators gathered at the state capitol for California Youth in Theatre Day (CYIT), sponsored by California Educational Theatre Association. CYIT , is an opportunity to demonstrate the importance of theatre education to state legislators. Prize-winning students are selected to meet with their local legislators, perform monologues, songs, dances and scenes at the Sacramento Theatre Company (STC) and participated in workshops with STC staff.

This week, the Alliance spoke to four students from Birmingham Community Charter High School about their trip to Sacramento.

Alliance: What made you want to be a part of California Youth in Theatre Day?

Jade Williams: I wanted to participate in CYIT because it was a chance to show people and our legislators how important the arts are to me and to many of my peers. It was a chance to showcase some work that we worked really hard on and to show how much we would appreciate keeping the arts in our schools.

Jasmine Sturgeon: I wanted to participate because it felt like such an honor to be chosen to perform. I wanted to make a difference no matter how small.

Alliance: What were the highlights of your trip to Sacramento?

Aaron Diaz: The highlight of my Sacramento trip was watching other performances. I got to see new talent and get inspired by the stories they were telling and energy they were sending out to the audience.

I also got to see the Wells Fargo Pavilion theater after my performance. The theater is amazing. I just felt that energy stepping on that stage. I imagined myself in a performance and felt that power and that message that a performer can deliver.

Workshops were helpful too. I learned things that I didn’t know about  theatre in other cultures in the world. I was also able to work with other people that also love theatre. Just going to Sacramento was one of my highlights. I’ve never been to Sacramento and this was a perfect opportunity to see my state’s capitol. It was great meeting one of the legislators and walking around the building that our Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger probably walks through every day.

Alliance: What was it like meeting with legislators?

Afsatu Metzger: I had the great pleasure of meeting with Senator Alex Padilla and explaining the importance of theatre in schools. I also had the chance to tell him how theatre has affected me in a positive way; for example, I have become a more effective communicator through acting.

Alliance: Did you learn anything new from your trip? Was there anything that surprised you?

Afsatu Metzger: I learned that there is an urgent need to get leaders to understand the importance of theatre and the arts in schools. I was surprised that there are those who have considered removing the arts from schools.

Jade Williams: I knew we were there to advocate for the arts, but I learned that we should be advocating all the time. In our communities and everywhere.

Alliance: What would you like to people to know about theatre education in schools? How has it helped you? Why is it important?

Jasmine Sturgeon: I would like to let people know that theater programs are not those stereotyped ones seen in the media. You learn so much from them it’s ridiculous and the amazing part is half the time you don’t even know that you’re learning something. Being a team player as well as being a leader, losing and winning graciously, confidence, [and] how to be someone people want to work with. These are all lessons that are important in life after high school.

Jade Williams: I would like them to know that it helps kids of all ages and it is something that we love doing. It makes me want to go to school. It keeps kids busy and out of trouble. It helped me find friends in high school… if I need anything I always have someone to go to.

Theatre helps so much with public speaking– the actual speaking part and the part about being in front of people. It teaches you to work with others and to be someone that people want to work with. It helps in almost all aspects of life.

Afsatu Metzger: Theatre has taught me to work in groups and realize that it is not always about me but the company as a whole.

Aaron Diaz: Theatre is more than just having a great time backstage or cracking jokes and making everything more memorable for you. It’s about making the moment more memorable for your audience. It’s about that connection that you have with the audience and sending a message to the people […] Whether it is a song, a play or a dance, the goal is to inspire them and make the audience reflect after a performance. It makes a lot of us stronger and more confident after each performance.

A College Freshman Returns to her High School to Champion Arts Education

January 20, 2010

San Francisco State University freshman, theatre major and poetry slam champion, Jasmine Williams, talked to us about why she returned to her high school to talk to the next generation about a career in the arts.

Alliance: What got you so passionate about the arts?

JW: Well to be honest, when I first signed up for a theatre class in tenth grade, I took it because I just needed a few more credits and I figured it would be easy. But then, when I got in there I got introduced to all this new stuff – improv, performing, writing — that’s when I started writing poetry, and I grew to love it.

Alliance: Was it harder than you thought it would be?

JW: Yes! The teacher expected us to really work for the class! We had to write our own plays and put them on at the end of the semester. We had to do our own lighting, costume design –- whatever the audience saw, came from what we did. If we wanted to look good, we had to make ourselves look good.

Alliance: But since you were there they’ve cut most of the arts classes?

JW: Yup. No more theatre or dance, and the band is gone, too.

Alliance: So what made you go back and talk to students there about a career in the arts?

JW: Well our high school holds an Alumni College Fair each year, where they do workshops about applying for college and different careers. I remember going when I was in high school and there was no one there to talk about the arts!

I always want to contribute to my community, so when they mailed out the list of workshops this time, I said, you know what – I can really contribute now.

I emailed the high school and they agreed it was really good idea. They allowed me to take charge of the workshop. I invited two friends to come and speak about different art forms – painting, photography, design and fashion.

Alliance: What happened?

JW: It was amazing to see so many eager students there. I didn’t expect so many! The night before we only set up about thirty chairs, but then we had to bring out twenty more chairs and there were people standing. For each of three workshops!

Alliance: What was your message about the cuts to the arts programs at the school?

JW: We talked to them about that! They could see how much the programs had meant to the three of us – that we’d taken the time to come and talk to them on a Saturday. We told that it’s up to them because it’s their school. They can sign petitions, do a boycott, they can fight to get those classes back. You have to work to get those teachers back. We stressed that if they really want to have arts classes they have to work for it, no one’s just going to give it to you.

If Not Now, When?

December 16, 2009


By Laurie T. Schell, Executive Director, California Alliance for Arts Education

This year, it’s hard to find a news story about the holidays that is not also an account of shrinking resources and making do with less. Despite signs of improvement in the U.S. economy, the landscape is still littered with pink slips, foreclosures and bankruptcies. Against that backdrop, it is easy to understand why people tend to focus on their own interests. A sense of generosity and community-mindedness can seem like things that we cannot ‘afford.’

In the months ahead, we cannot afford not to stand together. With a state budget shortfall, hard-won arts education programs now face major cuts. Narrow agendas and self-interests will have to be set aside to build a broad base of support.  Los Angeles Unified, the second largest school district in the country and the largest in this state, has issued a preliminary budget proposal to cut 50% percent of its elementary arts teachers, 173 of 345 teachers, in 2010-11 and the remaining 50% in the following year. This program has been built over ten years with the full support of the school board and administration. I don’t believe the superintendent wants to make these cuts, but times are dire indeed. That’s why the community must make some noise, show they care, to demonstrate they know that a quality education include the arts. Other school districts are watching, other states are watching, the media is watching to see if the public is willing to fight for quality education.

Arts for LA is spearheading an advocacy campaign to protest the cuts by engaging parents, teachers, artists, and community members to stand and be heard. The California Alliance and other regional and local organizations are lending support to the effort. With the support of the Alliance, similar coalitions are forming in 20 communities across the state. Together, we are working to protect arts education from budget cuts like the ones proposed by LAUSD. Get in touch with us and get involved in your community.

History is replete with examples of generosity and courage during desperate times. The accomplishments of the California Alliance and similar grassroots organizations have been due largely to these types of coalition-building cross-sector approaches and a personal commitment to action. Every success is built on a series of small steps. And oftentimes against all odds, the outcomes are surprising and uplifting. We invite you to take part in the action. Now is the time.

For more information on the Los Angeles Unified campaign, go to www.artsforla.org/groups/lausd

It’s Time for a Shared Delivery Model for the Arts

October 20, 2009

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.

The Current State of Arts Education in California

September 22, 2009

By Laurie T. Schell, Executive Director

Welcome to our new blog!  In the coming months, we look forward to bringing you posts from a wide variety of thinkers engaged with the future of arts education in California.

Recently, the Alliance undertook an informal survey of the 30 largest school districts in California to get a temperature read on how things are going. Here are two observations that stand out in reviewing the research:

If you don’t use it, you lose it. The most common story we heard from across California has to do with the demise of the unused one-time and ongoing Arts and Music Block Grant funds (resulting from the historic grant made in 2006). The irony is that many districts were trying to do the right thing— holding the money in order to think and plan strategically for greater impact over several years. And guess what? The unspent funds are largely gone now – swept into the general fund as soon as a change in state policy allowed.

We heard harrowing stories of districts making painful decisions about how to rob Peter to pay Paul, and we understand the desperate straits that many districts find themselves in. But what can we learn from the fate of that historic grant?

It’s a commonplace of budgeting that if you don’t use designated funds, you’re likely to lose them. That means having a strategic plan in place before the money arrives and strong momentum in the delivery of quality arts instruction already underway.  Having a plan is not a panacea, but it has proven a successful tactic for districts who make a commitment both to the plan and its implementation. Some day we’ll emerge from these dark days of the economic crisis. And when we do, districts that have done their planning work ahead of the curve will stand to benefit the most. So whether we’re talking about future federal funding, or just the return of better days and the rise in tide that lifts all boats, it’s important to continue planning for improved capacity in arts education.

Our message has made a difference. The second finding from the survey reveals a silver lining. In many cases, several of the districts we spoke with reported their administrators and school board officials valued the arts and took positions to protect arts programs. They also reported arts education advocates from the community were present and vocal at school board meetings. This hasn’t always been the case. These anecdotes suggest that advocates have been very effective in raising the level of awareness about the value of arts education for every child.

There is no doubt that we’ve made progress—historic funding in 2006, pockets of community activists making the case, better understanding of what quality arts programs look like, and greater awareness among school board and administrators. The problem, however, is that the restoration of the arts in each of the 1,000 California districts is tenuous and can only be sustained if each of us takes responsibility to act.  Without letting up on the message about why the arts matter (the emotional message), we must also hammer away at the need to fund and prioritize the arts in the same way as other core subject areas (the political message), and position the arts as an essential component of a complete education for every child (the BIG message).

We need to get busy as advocates, making sure that our state and local policymakers and education decisionmakers do three things, with regard to the visual and performing arts.

Prioritize the arts – dance, music, theatre, visual arts – as a core subject area.

Fund arts education – teachers, curriculum, instructional materials, professional development – in an ongoing, sustainable way.

Position the arts as essential to a complete education, thereby protecting them from funding raids in lean years.

Those three principles should guide every action we take as advocates.

And that leads me back to this blog. In the coming months, we’ll investigate many different points of view related to the political work ahead of us. We’ll ask knowledgeable experts to write about ways that we can prioritize, fund and position the arts in California schools. I hope you’ll be part of that conversation. It promises to be dynamic, diverse and pertinent.

If you don’t already, please subscribe to our twice-monthly newsletter, ArtsEdMail. Each issue will pose a question, and link to this blog, where we hope to engender and open conversation in response.

I look forward to hearing from you!

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