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This One's For The Children

Saturday, December 5, 2009 Leave a Comment

Check out a fascinating conversation regarding arts education funding over at A New Landscape in American Theatre, the Facebook page administered by Antonio Sonera. To quote Tony:

Currently in Portland, Oregon there is a group called CAN (Creative Advocacy Network) that is trying to establish a platform to bring to the voters which would enhance the funding for the arts in Portland. Our initial understanding was that this would be funding that would make a significant difference in funding for organizations. Now the word is that the" public" is mainly in support of Arts Education and Public Access. This was determined by polling some 400 people who vote in a tri-county area.
The executive director of CAN has promised two things: that there will be organizational funding, but that in order for the tax initiative to pass that "children must be a focus" and promised that children and arts would be used in a campaign.
He goes on to voice his concerns about this shift, worrying that mission creep towards arts education may inorganically happen to obtain the funding, that "public access" devalues art by making it free, and that the emphasis on children lowers the value of the arts for all, or as Jan Powell in the comments puts it:
Arts funding would be more truly helpful if it were apportioned in approximately the percentages we think are reasonable to ask of artists--say 80% of their time should be spent creating art, and 20% devoted to access and education. Unless society thinks artists should actually be teachers, and not artists.

Education and access should be outgrowths/offshoots of the artist's work, not the primary focus. Tail wags the dog, otherwise.
This reminded me of the fascinating Centerpiece published by my employer TCG that details the breakdown of resources allocated in education programs by age demographic. 81% of those programs were geared for the age group 5-18 compared to 12% for ages 19-25 and 9% for ages 26-40 (percentage total 118% due to statistical model used). If this sample of 102 theatres is consistent across the field, it looks like theatres are abandoning audience education right at the moment when we are most likely to lose them.

This also reminds me of Scott Walter's excellent work over at Less Than 100K project (soon to be renamed CRADLE), and his belief that the professional artist should empower audiences to access their own creativity. In a recent post, he links to a post at Faith and Foolishness that says much the same:
We put forth a lot of effort figuring out ways to nurture and support their budding talents, and our kids reap the benefits as both their abilities and their confidence soar. And yet, once those children and teenagers turn into thirty-somethings or fifty-somethings, that encouragement evaporates.
So arts education is reduced to teaching children when it could be expanded to empowering all members of a community towards their own creativity. It's like there's a huge chasm between children and middle-aged arts patrons, and we're allocating all of our resources to push kids towards that fall and no resources towards building a bridge.

Beyond our weekly workshop Flux Sunday, and our more inclusive ForePlay series, Flux doesn't have much to offer yet towards this particular vision of arts education as creative empowerment. What companies offer better models? I'm thinking of Cornerstone Theater right now, which empowered the creation of Teatro Jornalero Sin Fronteras, the theatre company comprised of LA day laborers who met at a Cornerstone project and decided to start their own company.

So join the conversation over at A New Landscape for American Theatre, and post examples of similarly successful models below.