By Dewey 21C

I was struck by Eric's desire to see real change happen in his/our lifetime. If there's a lesson to learn about our K-12 work, I think the lesson is that the work is long-term. There's no magic bullet. The education field is littered with school reform interventions, large and small, smart and dumb, often disconnected from where the real work takes place, with teachers and students, as Jane pointed out earlier. If you want to read more about that, I would suggest picking up Left Back, A Century of Battles over School Reform, by my friend, Diane Ravitch.

In the early to mid-90s, Rob Horowitz, Mitchell Korn, and I authored a plan to create The Center for Arts Education in New York City, securing what would initially become a five-year grant of $36 million in funding from The Annenberg Foundation, government, and private funders to revitalize arts education in the New York City public schools. It was part of the Annenberg Challenge and was created by a large scale, community-based planning project that believe it or not included over 100 people providing feedback to 10 drafts. The research for this project covered virtually every aspect of arts and education imaginable in New York City and beyond. The project was then led by Hollis Headrick, Laurie Tisch, and Greg McCaslin.

There have been considerable successes, including the creation of categorical, per-capita funding averaging $65 per student, restricted to spending on arts education (this fund reached a level of $75 million per year, at a time when the entire NEA budget was $99 million); the hiring of well over 600 certified arts specialists; major media attention (NY Times front page, editorial page, and more); the creation of a senior arts education position and office at the Board of Education, that eventually grew to over eight full-time staff members; a public private/partnership that included city government, the Board of Education, and the local teachers union, supported by civic and business leadership throughout the city; the building of over 130 innovative whole school arts education partnerships with hundreds of cultural and community-based organizations, and post secondary institutions, bringing arts education to every students in those partnership schools; and a public refocusing on arts education in New York City as never seen before or since. 

While arts education in New York City has certainly advanced, the work of CAE never went to the scale intended: providing access and quality arts for all children. There are now almost 1500 schools in the system! Among the many successes, there were misses, particularly in the areas of sustained advocacy, and in moving arts education into the educational mainstream. In addition, it appears, according the NYCDOE studies that we are losing ground in a number of key areas, and as a local community may not be well prepared to deal with the economic downturn. And, the categorical funding, which had leveled off at a mere $67 million per year, has been eliminated (to support empowering principals).

As we passed the mid-way point in this online discussion, I want to express my belief that our work is evergreen. The success of CAE in the 90s, resembles in many ways the success of Big Thought today. The arts curricula of today, some of which appears so innovative and important, are only an iteration of the many arts frameworks and curricula of the past 40 years. The much talked about report by RAND, only echoes the early reports like Coming to Our Senses. The teaching artists of today were pioneered by the Ford Foundation sending composers into schools for three-year residencies in school systems as early as 1962. The national commitment of The Wallace Foundation is echoed by the commitment of The Annenberg Foundation, which is echoed by an earlier arts education effort by the very same The Wallace Foundation, which is echoed by the truly groundbreaking philanthropy of The JDR 3rd Fund beginning in 1967.

We are building, or attempting to build a new house, brick-by-brick, as the shape of the bricks change, as the design of the blueprints change, as earlier bricks erode, all in ways that we can not necessarily predict, making sustainability difficult at best, illusory at worst.

The work is evergreen.

December 4, 2008 4:56 AM | | Comments (4) |


There's also something hopeful about the word 'Evergreen.' Seeing evergreens in the dead of winter always gives some proof of life.

If the job never ends, then you don't worry about the finish line. There is no finish line, only what's happening now.

Evergreen...what a nice euphemistical way of saying "oh, no! not again! we're back to ground zero!" whenever superintendents, arts specialists, classroom teachers, and other champions of the arts as education leave their posts.

It is probably true that at each iteration of the arts education history cycle, we inch forward a bit, but alas, we also slide back. We do not chronicle or pay sufficient attention to all the important lessons learned during, for example, the last almost 50 years...

What's probably important to remember is that these are indeed cycles, frightenly repetitive, but we somehow manage to survive and rise from the near dead.

By the way, I would challenge that NYC Annenberg schools provided arts education for every child in those schools fortunate enough to have the grant over 5 years time. I know that the many schools I worked with did not include all the kids, alas....now, had the grant continued over time, they might have.

Ah, the issue of time, again, and again.

Thanks for this perspective, Richard. It helps re-frame the circular discussion, or "lack of progress," from a point of frustration that many of us feel. "Evergreen" is a lovely, evocative word -- I hope it will remind us to beware of our (short-term) successes and not take them for granted, and to not be dismayed by other (short-term) setbacks.

Richard... you are correct in pointing out this work is ever green.

I have often been asked "when will we be finished" with the work of having to advocate for the arts in our schools. The answer is simple.


As I look back over nearly 70 years of advocacy efforts - starting before WWII - parents and teachers voiced concern that programs (music) would be cut... to the threat of Sputnik... to the program cuts threatened in Chicago in the early 70's which inspired Benny Goodman to lead a protest parade through the city... to prop 13 in california (which devastated the arts programs... the recession of the 80's the birth of the modern day music/arts advocacy movement with the release of our National Education goals by the NGA in 1989... the battle over the exclusion of the arts from these goals in America 2000... the addition of the arts as a core subject in 1993's proposed "Goals 2000"... through the growth of the 90's and now NCLB and the current market meltdown... We have always had to make the case for the arts. It is only recently (15 years) that we have started to have the data and research to support the arts role as an equal partner in education.

The reason, in my view, is simple. As soon as we educate one crop of school boards, superintendents, policy makers, parents, and concerned citizens... they move on and another group comes along. The education of the new group starts fresh.

Am I happy about the fact that we have to constantly make the case... no. However, it is the reality of the landscape in which we operate and we have to play by the rules of the game as it is being carried out so we can achieve what we all desire... the opportunity for every child to be educated in a meaningful way with the arts. That is why our work is, as you put so well, evergreen

And if I may quote from my good friend Mike Greene who was one of the instigators of the modern day advocacy movement for music and arts education... as he hammered then Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander on national television during the Grammy Awards for the omission of the arts for the national education goals and Lamar's refusal to add the arts... Mike said:

"The very idea that we can educate young people in a meaningful way without music and art is simply absurd."


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Lindsay Price commented on Evergreen: There's also something hopeful about the word 'Evergreen.' Seeing evergreen...

JANE REMER commented on Evergreen: Evergreen...what a nice euphemistical way of saying "oh, no! not again! we'...

Phil Alexander commented on Evergreen: Thanks for this perspective, Richard. It helps re-frame the circular discu...

Bob Morrison commented on Evergreen: Richard... you are correct in pointing out this work is ever green. I have...