Creative Collaborative Approaches Work to Maintain, Extend Arts Education in Six U.S. Urban Areas

For Release

June 18, 2008

Amid cutbacks in school arts education funding, public and private organizations in six urban regions have collaborated to expand access to arts learning for children in and outside of public school, according to a RAND Corporation study issued today.

The initiatives -- in Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles County, New York City and Alameda County in Northern California -- have experienced varying degrees of progress, the study finds. But all serve as examples of how organizations that pool resources and coordinate activities can make it possible for more children to benefit from arts learning.

The study was commissioned by The Wallace Foundation and conducted by RAND, a non-profit research organization.

“Arts education in public schools has been a low priority for the last 30 years,” said Susan Bodilly, director of RAND Education and the study’s lead author. “But the results of our study demonstrate that, with the right leadership and the collaborative efforts of public and private organizations, children can enjoy the many benefits of arts education.”

“We believe every child -- and our broader society -- benefits from high-quality arts learning and that arts education deserves a secure place in our communities,” said Edward Pauly, director of research and evaluation at The Wallace Foundation. “Arts learning can enhance a child’s ability to ‘learn how to learn’; it can develop skills of persistence and teamwork; it can enhance the school experience for students -- sustaining their interest and enthusiasm for learning; and it can nurture empathy and foster imagination through experiences that the arts uniquely provide.”

The study finds that many trends -- including cuts resulting from state and local budget problems to the emphasis of the No Child Left Behind Act on reading and math -- have sharply reduced the number of arts teaching positions and the time available during the school day for arts courses.

The arts initiatives studied by RAND had one to 10 years of experience. Researchers identified four distinct patterns of leadership, organization and provision among the six urban regions:

  • Alameda County and Los Angeles County initiated network-building activities from county offices – the Alameda County Office of Education and the Los Angeles County Arts Commission. Both have diverse participation and focus on increasing in-school arts education for all students. Seventy percent of the school districts in Alameda County are involved in the Alliance for Arts Learning Leadership, while in Los Angeles County one-third of the 80 school districts participate in the Arts for All initiative.
  • Boston’s efforts focus on giving at-risk youth out-of-school-time programs, including arts programs. Local foundations and support from the mayor’s office are vital to this effort.
  • The Chicago and New York City efforts are led or co-led by the local public school system’s central office and focus on increasing stand-alone arts courses in schools. Private foundations proved critical for the growth of these young initiatives.
  • In Dallas, a community based organization, Big Thought, introduced integrated arts learning into all elementary schools, then expanded to support stand-alone and out-of-school time arts education programs. After 10 years of effort, all elementary school students in Dallas now enjoy integrated arts learning, and the city plans to hire 140 new elementary school arts specialists.

Five of the communities began work by conducting audits or surveys to assess the state of arts education in the schools or the community. The audits uncovered inequities in each case, which helped to galvanize support for arts education initiatives.

Additionally, five of the programs aimed to provide access for all students primarily during the school day, with some of them initially focused on elementary school children.

Five of the six communities also focused on attracting and leveraging funding and resources. In Los Angeles County, 10 to 15 organizations each year contribute to a pooled fund created by the arts education initiative, Arts for All, and meet quarterly to determine spending priorities.

“Taken together, the strategies of conducting audits, leveraging funding, increasing capacity for providing quality arts learning experiences, and engaging in coordinated advocacy efforts has provided great momentum in these regions for improving access to quality arts learning experiences,” said co-author Catherine Augustine, a behavioral scientist at RAND.

Researchers also found that each effort successfully placed an arts education coordinator within the central office of the school district. Rather than follow the traditional approach of hiring a teacher to serve as a part-time coordinator, the districts either had, or were in the process of securing, a senior full-time coordinator. The coordinator’s responsibilities include advocating for arts education and ensuring its place in the school district’s core curriculum.

“Ultimately, the study makes clear the importance of strong leaders developing collaborative efforts to unite a network of organizations -- schools, cultural institutions, community-based organizations, foundations, business and government agencies -- to make arts education in public schools a reality,” Bodilly said.

The study concludes that efforts to promote arts education are fragile, particularly in the face of changes in policy and political leadership, shortages in funding and other resources, and reduced time in the school day.

“Because research links early arts exposure to participation later in life, arts education plays a vital role in ensuring America has a robust cultural life in the future,” Windham said. “Its absence over the long term would be a great loss.”

The full report, “Revitalizing Arts Education Through Community-Wide Coordination,” and a report summary are available at

RAND Education, a division of the RAND Corporation, is a leader in providing objective, high-quality research and analysis on educational challenges that is used to improve educational access, quality and outcomes in the United States and throughout the world.

The Wallace Foundation is an independent, national foundation dedicated to supporting and sharing effective ideas and practices that expand learning and enrichment opportunities for all people. Its three current objectives are: strengthening education leadership to improve student achievement; improving out-of-school learning opportunities; and building appreciation and demand for the arts. The Foundation maintains an online library of research reports and other publications that may be downloaded free of charge at:

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