School districts, arts partners, and county offices of educations across the Bay Area are making plans to bring more arts education to there students. On January 10, 2020, we brought many of the leaders of these processes together for a special arts education policy roundtable. Here are links to each of the plans we discussed:
City of Berkeley Arts & Culture Plan (education section on pages 36-37)
SFUSD Arts Education Master Plan refresh proposal (presentation to the Board of Education, 2016).
We began the convening by allowing everyone present to add themselves to our timeline of Bay Area arts education efforts.
Jasmine Yep Huynh of the San Francisco Ballet and the AEABA board of directors moderated the discussion. Each panelist gave a short update about their planning process:
Michelle Holdt, Visual and Performing Arts Coordinator for San Mateo County Office of Education, talked about learning from Louise Music (who just left the Alameda County Office of Education for other pursuits) that everyone must be invited to the conversation. With help from Peggy Burt, Arts Now Planning Director for the California Alliance for Arts Education, Michelle held a 3-day planning meeting to create a strategic plan. Michelle took the extra step of designing the San Mateo county plan as a collage-filled accordion book.
Rachel Osajima, Director of the Alameda County Arts Commission and lead of CREATE Alameda County, is working on a report about the state of arts education in that county. She is looking forward to marking the 20th anniversary of arts in education month in March and to celebrating a California arts and culture month in April. See video of her report here.
Derek Fenner, Program Manager with Alameda County Office of Education, talked about the Integrated Learning department’s strategic plan. He stressed the importance of funding for any of these efforts and noted that data shows us that the same students that are failing are the ones not getting access to the arts. He also talked about the importance of internal and external evaluation to make our arts education work more visible.
Rachel Hull, Director of the Berkeley Rep School of Theatre and a leader with the Berkeley Arts Education Steering Committee (BAESC), talked about arriving the Bay Area from Dallas, where the organization Big Thought was able to make strategic choices to address arts education inequities. Rachel was able to report that the Berkeley city cultural plan includes arts education and that BAESC recently merged with a city committee so they will be ready to move forward in a more united way.
Kristen Jacobson, the new Executive Director of Youth in Arts, talked about a similar experience of arriving into town in recent years having come from Chicago where the organization Ingenuity was able to lead an organized push for arts education. They began grading schools based on creativity as part of a system to incentivize arts partnerships with funding. Kristen has experience culture shock again as she has moved from working at Lines Ballet and being part of SFUSD arts education planning to her new job in Marin where Youth in Arts has been a leader in implementing a new Marin County Arts Education Master Plan.
The (internal and external) perception of Marin as being full of resources and progressive policies make it difficult to address the massive inequality that exists between it’s 18 school districts. There is an Arts Education Vision Plan that lacks a timeline or accountability and there is data collection that just collects dust.
Patrick Martin, Coordinator of Visual and Performing Arts at West Contra Costa Unified School District, was able to report on some of the most concrete advancements in arts education. His district, which is also home to both affluence and poverty, has brought back elementary school music programs and many classes and resources. He is very happy to have contracted with the Alameda County Office of Education for their teachers to take classes in the Integrated Learning Specialist Program. The district is seeing results as he hears from teachers that students who were once totally disengaged all of a sudden become leaders in the class when the arts become involved.
Debbie Yarrow of the Arts Education Alliance of Sonoma County and Creative Sonoma came to Sonoma a few years ago from Any Given Child program in Iowa City. This was at the same time that Sonoma was being struck by devastating wildfires, so she was quickly working to help the community use arts to address trauma. They used a 2017 research report about the strengths and challenges for Sonoma arts education and worked with Peggy Burt to consider what is possible in Sonoma County that could be useful for the many school districts there. They released an arts education plan in December 2019 that has a framework of options and are trusting that districts and the County Office of Education will adopt those ideas. They are inhibited by a lack of arts coordinators at the schools.
Sam Bass, Director of Visual and Performing Arts at the San Francisco Unified School District is also relatively new at his job. He told the story of 4 new school board commissioners coming in blazing in 2019. They passed an arts equity resolution in June while sending the Arts Education Master Plan Refresh back because of a lack of diversity represented in the community feedback collected for the plan. Sam reports that the refresh is amazing and much needed - and that he hopes to get a little more funding from the school board to finish the refresh (of a 2008 Arts Education Master Plan) - including giving it a better name than “refresh”. Here is a recap of our September 2019 roundtable with Sam. SFUSD is also working on a capital campaign to build an arts education center including a new home for Ruth Asawa School of the Arts and for the emergin MOSAIC Initiative that aims to serve all students in the district.
The panel continued by discussing challenges they are all facing. General advocacy for arts education came up, and CREATE CA was suggested as a help for letting people know about the gaps in arts education in California (you can join this public will campaign by signing up on their website).
The overall budget for education continues to be a challenge - so passing the Communities and Schools First Initiative on the California ballot in November will need to be a priority. Advocacy is a constant task that requires continuous training and informing of advocates. Sam Bass talked about the importance of reaching out to principals for one-on-one interactions as they are the gate keepers for what programs can come into their schools. Kristen spoke of the audacity to get seats at the table and to ask tough questions. Michelle commented that the struggle is bigger than arts education, it’s about making sure there is humanity in education so that students can be their whole selves. Teachers must be able to model self love if we are going to be able to save our planet.
Politics can do much to sway what is possible in a district, so we need to pay attention to school board races. We can play a role in this by getting candidates to answer questionnaires about arts education policy. Arts providing organizations can help schools liaison with parents via strategies like fun family arts nights.
Report on Oakland Arts Education Advocacy
Aimee Espiritu, consultant to Oakland schools VAPA department and Nina Woodruff-Walker, Executive Director for the Museum of Children’s Art reported on arts advocacy efforts in Oakland. The Oakland Unified Arts Partners formed in 2016 and has now been meeting monthly.
Now 20 organizations have come together to raise questions about the Oakland Arts and Culture funding. The city has cut funding for the arts which has meant that the Arts in Schools grants category has been folded into other support grants and the office in charge of managing those grants is very understaffed. Aimee and Nina reported that the Funding Advisory Committee welcomed their input. By doing a little bit of planning, these arts education providers have been able to lead the conversation with the city. Now its time to bring that pressure to increase the funding available for the arts.
The Oakland Unified Arts Partners meet on 3rd Thursdays to coordinate issues such as professional development alongside the Oakland Unified School District and are meeting on 2nd Thursdays at MOCHA to coordinate advocacy.
Several panelist - Michelle Holdt (on left in red), Kristen Jacobson, Samuel Bass, Debbie Yarrow, Patrick Martin, Rachel Osajima, with moderator Jasmine Yep Huynh (drinking coffee) and the back of Rachel Hull’s head in the foreground.
It was a fully packed room at 401 Van Ness. Thank you to the San Francisco Arts Commission for hosting!
Debbie holds up a copy of the local paper with a big story about arts education. Click on the photo to read “Sonoma County public schools greatly lack access to arts education, despite state mandate” in the Press Democrat.