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Arizona Nonprofits: Act One

Written by Marilyn Hawkes Category: Culture Issue: December 2018
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Geri Wright’s nonprofit fundraising career has spanned more than 25 years and has included stints at the Heard Museum and Arizona Theatre Company. After a mutual friend introduced Wright to the founders of Act One, a nonprofit organization that provides arts experiences to lower-income school children in Maricopa and Pima counties, she came on board in 2015. Now Act One's CEO and president, Wright is passionate about the organization's mission and shares why arts education for children is vital.

Q: How does Act One bridge the gap for at-risk students who may not have the opportunity to experience the arts as part of their education?Geri Wright Act One
A: Act One provides access for students in Title 1 schools who may have never seen a live performance, theatrical production or been inside a museum. Title 1 is a federal program for schools defined by having a minimum of 40 percent of their student body on the free/reduced lunch program. Arts experiences and field trips are generally not in Title I school budgets.

Q: How many students do you serve?
A: We partner with 71 arts organizations, more than 250 teachers and will send 47,000 students on a field trip this school year, which is 10,000 more students than last year. This is the first year that demand has outpaced capacity. In the first five days of registration (August 2018) we received 52,000 seat requests from teachers.

Q: What are some of the programs you offer?
A: The Field Trip program is our signature program and the reason we were founded. The Culture Pass program is a partnership with library systems in Maricopa and Pima counties and provides admissions to arts organizations that we partner with free of charge. You check them out with your library card. There are more than 500,000 passes in the community annually through this program.

Q: Why is it important for children to have exposure to the arts?
A: Studies show that students exposed to the arts – especially at-risk students – are more engaged in class, have increased attendance and are more likely to graduate from high school. The impact of the artistic field trip on these students is in three distinct areas: 1. The experience may strike an interest in dance or theatre. Studies show that if children are not exposed to the arts at a young age, they will likely not visit or become volunteers, board members or staff as an adult. 2. A field trip experience can be a life experience, especially for these students who rarely (if ever) leave their neighborhoods. 3. It is a shared experience that can be used back in the classroom.

Q: Can you tell me about a memorable moment while watching a child see a live performance for the first time?
A: It’s amazing to watch the student’s faces when seeing a symphony performance, for example. They dress up in their finest—ribbons and bow ties—because it’s a special day. The excitement as they enter the performance hall is palpable. I’ve seen students drop to their knees, feeling the swirls on the carpet because they’d never seen patterned carpet before. Or they’re on the edge of their seat and quiet (which is unusual) as they watch the performance.

Q: What would you like people to know about Act One?
A: At seven years old, Act One is a young, vibrant organization that provides access to the arts for more than 550,000 students and families through our programs each year. We know that the arts can make a difference in a child’s life – how participating in the arts widens worlds and creates innovative thinkers. We know the impact and the importance and know that there is no other organization duplicating our service to the community.

For more information, visit act1az.org