May 24, 2007
Executive Director's Column
NASAA has a working definition of collaboration that includes mutual identification of a priority, shared design of an approach, and joint contribution of resources. In collaborations between the NEA and the state arts agencies, we also look for federal and state roles that complement each other and provide what each can contribute uniquely toward a common goal. We were pleased, therefore, to see the roll out of the NEA Education Leaders Institute. This initiative, structured on the model of the Mayors’ Institute of City Design, will gather teams of school leaders, legislators, policymakers, educators, professional artists, consultants and scholars from up to five states. In the course of a three-day conference they will discuss a shared arts education challenge and engage in strategic planning to advance arts education in their respective states.
NASAA has encouraged an NEA investment in statewide arts education convenings that would foster the leadership connection between the state arts agency and the department of education and take the collaboration between the arts and the education community to the next level. The pilot project took advantage of an exemplary working relationship between the Ohio Arts Council and the Ohio Department of Education to bring together more than a dozen school teams of teachers and administrators from throughout the state to work on various issues and strategies related to advancing arts learning in their local school systems. That conference, though it was along the lines of an “education summit” model, demonstrated that federal funding and identification with the project provided added value, resulting in a good representation of local superintendents and principals and making out-of-state resource people available to participants.
As always, NASAA’s interest is to facilitate the learning of individual states and groups of states becoming a resource to all state arts agencies. NEA plans for the Education Leaders Institute eventually to reach school leaders from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the territories. Dr. Sarah B. Cunningham, NEA director of education, hopes to bring new perspectives to arts education issues and generate innovative strategies. She has written, “we look forward to inviting experts from beyond education to contemplate and design ideal education opportunities that draw on, build from and expand arts learning for American children.” NASAA anticipates useful outcomes from this federal-state collaboration and compliments the Illinois Arts Council for its willingness to organize this Institute and provide all of us the benefit of its special expertise and its management capacity.
Arts education continues to be a major focus of state arts agency investment. So many states are doing so much to strengthen the infrastructure that supports learning in the arts, it seems almost unfair to single out any one for mention, but I can’t help sharing the experience of being a part of the North Carolina Arts Council (NCAC) statewide conference on “the arts in 21st century education” in Charlotte a few weeks ago. First of all, the chair of the state school board, the secretary of education and the secretary of cultural resources were all in attendance to address the conference and be acknowledged for their support. Over 500 participants–a nice balance of arts leaders and educators–celebrated the announcement made by the state school board chair at the conference that after a year of well-organized testimony by advocates at public meetings around the state, the arts would be included as a basic element in the core curriculum. The timing of the conference made it an important rallying point and showcase to the authorizers of the size and enthusiasm of the constituency–whichever way that decision went. Participants were provided with the results of a new study mapping baseline information about arts instruction in the state; breakout sessions covered a wide range of topics pertinent to artists, teachers, administrators, and advocates; and Doug Herbert, former NEA director of education and now a top official at the U.S. Department of Education, presented an informative and entertaining history of arts instruction in public education in the United States, leading up to current issues. Workshops were local, statewide and national in scope, and some, like the sessions on effective advocacy and on useful research findings in which I was a presenter, addressed all levels. Irresistable Chuck Davis and his dancers, based in North Carolina, got everyone moving to African rhythms, creating a great feeling of community by opening and closing the conference. Teaching artist and all-around theatrical talent Eric Booth did an outstanding job of emceeing the conference and offering provocative insights. Participants were treated to a reception and tour in Imaginon, the unique facility jointly designed and shared by the city library and the Children’s Theater of Charlotte. Organized around the common element of stories–creating them, telling them, and being told them–fully taking advantage of digital technology and thoroughly integrating the two institutions, this place is a case study of how cultural groups can position themselves to thrive in the 21st century. NCAC Executive Director Mary Regan and her team were star quality; conferees gave Arts-in-Education Director Linda Bamford a standing ovation.
I’m now looking forward to my next statewide conference experience–a keynote address for the Florida Alliance for Arts Education in W. Palm Beach. NASAA Chief Program and Planning Officer Kelly Barsdate, Legislative Counsel Tom Birch and I appreciate your invitations to be of service in the field. Your work guides and inspires us.
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