I have written before about the Kennedy Center's comprehensive arts education program: Any Given Child. This program assesses the arts education opportunities in a given community (offered by schools, arts organizations, community groups and others) and designs a comprehensive kindergarten through eighth grade sequence that utilizes all of these opportunities in a format consistent with the school curriculum in that community. It is a new approach that is affordable and gives each student (any given child) a less haphazard arts education than is available in most communities.
This is a relatively new program. I developed the concept in 2008, with support from the Ford Foundation, and executives from my able Education Department -- Darrell Ayers and Barbara Shepherd -- took the concept and ran with it. They began implementation in Sacramento, California just two years ago. Since Kevin Johnson, the dynamic mayor of Sacramento, agreed to make his city the first Any Given Child site, six other communities have adopted the program: Springfield, Missouri; Portland, Oregon; Tulsa, Oklahoma; Austin, Texas; Las Vegas, Nevada and Sarasota, Florida.
On a recent Sunday about 40 participants in the program from these seven cities met in Washington, D.C. to share their experiences to date: the challenges they face, the successes they have enjoyed, the opportunities for improving the program.
It is important to note that the participants came from the school systems, funders, arts organizations and local government -- the cluster of individuals required to introduce and nourish a comprehensive program like this one.
One challenge that is universally experienced is the shrinking pool of public funding for arts education. No one who works in arts education can ignore this reality. But the comprehensive nature of Any Given Child, the fact that every student is given equal access to an arts education, and the modest cost of the program, has allowed the arts educators in these seven communities to make a strong case for continued public funding.
Important participants in our meeting were local funders -- executives from private foundations -- who appreciate the impact that a systematic arts education can offer and have been generous investors in Any Given Child in their communities. In many cases, their early commitment to the program inspired other local funders to join in as well.
Several representatives from arts organizations were present as well. They understood that by placing their arts education offerings within a larger context, the students in their communities stood to benefit. It might be easier to operate in a vacuum but it is not as effective.
Watching these arts educators, arts leaders and arts funders work together was truly inspiring. Their commitment to their communities, their excitement to be part of a new national venture, and their willingness to share their knowledge indicated why they are so effective in this work.
In the coming years we hope to add many new cities to our Any Given Child community. Perhaps, just perhaps, we can develop the data to convince politicians that arts education is not frivolous but should be a central part of the education of all American children.