Community-driven programs augment public schools’ dwindling arts education.
About 30 elementary-school students, some clad in school uniforms and some in street clothes, swagger across an indoor basketball court before pausing, twirling around in a complete circle and dropping dramatically to the floor, following the lead of three hip-hop dance instructors. In an adjacent room at the Jerry Colangelo Branch of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Phoenix, a handful of students bangs away on African drums, following a music teacher’s audible example. “Tone-tone-tone, bass-bass-bass,” he calls to them, showing them what to do with their hands to mimic his drum sounds. “This is fun,” a girl whispers to her friend with a covert smile, before trying out a new rhythm.
These arts experiences were brought to the kids by Art4All, an “art mobile” – like a food truck, but with art supplies and instructors instead of gourmet hot dogs and quesadillas – conceived by Class 35 of Valley Leadership, an annual leadership program and community project incubator, and made possible by a partnership with Phoenix Center for the Arts and other community supporters. It’s one of a growing number of community-driven, extracurricular arts programs popping up in the Valley to serve students, teachers and schools beset by budget slashes. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Arizona sliced education funding 21.8 percent between fiscal years 2008 and 2013, and arts programs were often the first to go or get cut.
“This year we’re bummed because Scottsdale school district cut the fourth-grade elementary band and strings,” says George Mahoney, owner with wife Pauli of Stages music stores in Scottsdale. “If the kids want to participate in band or strings, they are going to have to take a bus to the junior high school before school,” Pauli adds. “The parents are coming in and returning their instruments. We’ve definitely seen it [the cuts] and that’s why we’ve really tried to expand these programs as much as we can.”
The Mahoneys offer personalized instruction, group classes with discounted rates, a rock ‘n’ roll camp for kids, and even scholarships for instrument rentals and camp/workshop tuition. “We’re trying to give the programs and the schools and the band teachers as much support as we can,” George says. The Mahoneys say they know band teachers who are stretched so thin that they divide their time between up to six schools.
The West Valley Arts Council has also partnered with schools, offering professional development for fine arts teachers, bringing performances to the West Valley to reduce the need for costly transportation, supplying elementary school districts with instruments free of charge (in partnership with VH1’s Save the Music Foundation) and providing a paid apprenticeship program called Gallery 37 for teens interested in the arts. WVAC executive director Bernadette Mills says they’re able to do so much because they employ an extensive network of nonprofits and community partners, a trend she thinks will continue to grow to fill in the arts education gaps.
“There’s more communication between schools and nonprofits. The nonprofits have resources; they have a lot of artists willing to help. It’s just trying to figure out how they can work together and everybody can benefit,” Mills says. “We’re all looking for diverse audiences. It’s a great way for us to be out working in the community and not just be stuck in our boxes. We have to invest in our local communities and in our schools.”
>> Art4All – Mobile arts program brings the arts directly to communities in need. art4allaz.org
>> City Jazz – Long-running youth jazz band for ages 12-18 at jazz club The Nash. thenash.org/tag/city-jazz/
>> Rising Youth Theatre – At-risk students create original theater and perform a show. risingyouththeatre.org
>> Stages Music – Family-owned music store offers lessons and rock ‘n’ roll camp for aspiring musicians. stagesmusic.com
>> West Valley Arts Council – Creates opportunities for West Valley kids to engage in the arts and provides professional development for educators. westvalleyarts.org
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