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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Is This What We Voted For?: Arts Organizations Deemed "Unqualified" for Education Levy Money They've Been Getting for Years While Mayor Hosts Meetings Across Town on the Importance of Arts Education

Posted by on Tue, Mar 13, 2012 at 3:25 PM

When Mayor Mike McGinn takes the stage tonight at the town hall he's hosting at Youngstown Cultural Arts Center, his opening act will be an awesome youth breakdance crew called the Vicious Puppies.

The only problem: The group, funded through the nonprofit Arts Corps, just got word this week that its city funding has been eliminated. Under the new voter-approved Families and Education Levy, funds have increased to support low-income kids and kids of color, and the mayor has also begun a citywide campaign to discuss the importance of arts education—but paradoxically, not a single arts organization was deemed "qualified" for levy funding this year.

Sorry, Vicious Puppies, you're not "outcomes-based" enough to qualify for our new money. But you can perform at our town hall, sure!

Elizabeth Whitford, the executive director of Arts Corps, voted for the levy. "I was very excited about it," she said in a phone conversation today.

Levy money has supported Arts Corps programming since 2005, and nothing in the new levy's wording suggested to Whitford that a high-performing, veteran arts program like Arts Corps would find itself on the chopping block. Arts Corps is the largest nonprofit arts education organization in Seattle. It bridges the gap, in particular, at schools that don't have parent-teacher associations that can pay for arts classes the district has cut. (I profiled Arts Corps here; here's a link to its invitation to the White House among many other accomplishments.)

But yesterday, after a failed appeal, Arts Corps was notified that it is losing $60,000 it has come to count on to provide free visual and performing art classes to 800 kids in 13 Seattle public schools—exactly the kinds of schools the levy is designed to help.

Holly Miller, head of the city's Office of Education, said in a phone conversation that Arts Corps had all the information but failed to demonstrate that it daily or weekly tracks the math and reading scores or attendance data of its students.

"We held 20 workshops over the summer and fall, and every one of them dealt with data," Miller said. "Including a special workshop just for arts organizations."

But in the end, not a single arts organization was deemed qualified.

Among those that applied were 826 Seattle, which in November won a 2011 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award given by Michelle Obama at the White House; Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra, which has been around for 70 years and provides free music classes to 1,500500 kids each year; Nature Consortium, which for 14 years has taught kids nature and art simultaneously; and many more.

What's worse, Arts Corps has never had to apply to be "qualified" for its funding before—and didn't find out it would have to until very late in the game.

Arts Corps has received its funding as a subcontractor for the YMCA, Parks and Recreation, and Tiny Tots. They are "qualified" organizations and programs. This year, the City changed its rules to require that any subcontractor receiving more than $5,000 has to apply on its own.

But nobody found out about that change until the request was published in December, Whitford said.

That left Arts Corps scrambling.

"I have no doubt that [Arts Corps] is going to be able to rise to the occasion in the future," Miller said. "We love them, we think they're wonderful...but we did have this commitment to really using this money to invest in outcomes."

But Whitford and Kathleen Allen, Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra Director of Education, Communications, and Partnerships, said Miller's interpretation of the levy is arbitrarily and deleteriously narrow.

"It’s my concern that this whole process is going to limit opportunities for kids," Allen said.

"In the end, I think we were nicked on a technicality," Whitford of Arts Corps said.

Arts Corps was denied its qualification because it does not formally daily or weekly track the math and reading test scores and attendance of its students. But that's a new rubric, and it's also a hard one because Arts Corps was a subcontractor: Its partners have historically done that tracking, Whitford said.

The reason the Y, Parks and Rec, and Tiny Tots do it rather than Arts Corps is that those larger organizations have access to something called The Source, which provides otherwise protected information about individual students to community groups.

"Our partners have access to The Source, and we work together, so some students may get pulled out of our programs if they need case management or tutoring, and other kids will get pulled into our programs if they're struggling around engagement or motivation and would benefit from being in our classes," Whitford said.

"The program partner [the Y, Parks and Rec, or Tiny Tots] is looking at that data," Whitford continued. "We are happy to look at it, too, but it was impossible to pull that together in the time frame from December to when the application was due in February. I guess we could have added in there that our teaching artists have conversations with their students about these things on a weekly basis, which they do, and which a lot of other organizations put in their applications and slid by with—but I didn't consider that data."

There was no bridge program to help a high-performing, previously funded levy program like Arts Corps adjust to late-breaking funding changes in order to avoid being dropped.

And despite this, the appeals process yielded no relief.

Nevertheless, Miller said, "everybody was on a level playing field in this process, and everybody understood the rules."

Students and supporters of Arts Corps will testify to the Mayor tonight at Youngstown Cultural Arts Center. The open public meeting is from 5:30 to 8. The Vicious Puppies perform at 6:30.

 

Comments (26) RSS

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Will in Seattle 1
Title too long, browser renders the entire string.

What about the Fremont Arts Council? They're qualified enough to be on the state funding list that any state employee can donate to thru paycheck donations? I know they provide free arts teachers for BF Day School for example.
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on March 13, 2012 at 3:42 PM · Report this
2
I'm sorry, but telling kids they can be rappers and break dancers as opposed to wht they should focus on, low end technical work like mechanic or chip fry operator, is just another way for whites liberals to relieve their guilt while setting up 95% of these kids for major disappointment in life.
Posted by Teach them how to work on March 13, 2012 at 4:23 PM · Report this
3
To Comment 2- You are clearly misinformed about what these organizations do, and the state of education in this country. You may want to do some research it might help you to understand things a little better- particularly arts education and child psychology.
Posted by JR_012 on March 13, 2012 at 4:29 PM · Report this
4
I am not a fan of Holly Miller and have not been. She should take her legalistic ass and move to something having to do with the city's legal obligations. She doesn't get it and never has, but somehow has been put in positions of power over arts and cultural organizations.
Posted by MGordon on March 13, 2012 at 4:44 PM · Report this
Catalina Vel-DuRay 5
Why don't they use that money to bring art and music classes back to the schools? In fact, why don't we use the 1% for art fund to pay for art education in the schools? Public art is nice, but if we don't educate children about art, there won't be any artists to use the fund.
Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay http://www.danlangdon.com on March 13, 2012 at 4:50 PM · Report this
6
@5, you believe that if we don't teach art in school that no artists will materialize? I disagree. Some people will probably be attracted to art and pursue it regardless.
Posted by John Jensen http://seattletransitblog.com on March 13, 2012 at 5:11 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 7
Fact: money spent on art goes almost entirely back into the local community, creating many more jobs than money spent on non-productive Hedge Fund Managers who use it to buy art from artists in other countries, jet to other countries, and invest their loot in other countries.

Fiction: art is bad.
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on March 13, 2012 at 6:00 PM · Report this
NOP_Spinster 8
@6 Of course people will still find attraction to the arts if it's not taught in school. Nevertheless, it should be taught in school.

More people should be given the opportunity when they are young to learn about the arts. I can't imagine what my life would be like if my public school didn't have arts in it. Or do you prefer we just teach to the test? Nothing better than a bunch of little robots who get all their arts learnin' from the teevee and movies.
Posted by NOP_Spinster on March 13, 2012 at 6:34 PM · Report this
9
@2 Liberate their minds and they'll never be able to do the low end menial work they'll get in life.
Posted by You're just setting them up for failure on March 13, 2012 at 6:39 PM · Report this
10
Yes, because if there was one thing America's little Johnny Gangbangers lacked, it was a lack of narcissism.
Posted by Will arts help them be good workers at McD's? on March 13, 2012 at 7:13 PM · Report this
11
Jen, you do a great service by getting this travesty out there.

I am so disappointed that those in power pull this kind of tactic to squash the creative thought Seattle is known for, but I'm not too surprised. Although Steve Jobs put lessons learned from calligraphy signs at Evergreeen to work and revolutionized technology and visual culture, these days the powers that be don't want that kind of thing around here.

Art organzations should not be put in the position where they have to hire extra staff just to keep up with the ridiculous hoops they are required to jump through-a foolish waste when it duplicates work that is done elsewhere. It can only drain valuable resources away from the really important work of arts education.

Many of the comments above are incredibly narrow minded and misinformed. Ignorance meets arrogance. Its embarrassing.
Posted by hitchcock on March 13, 2012 at 8:02 PM · Report this
Catalina Vel-DuRay 12
"you believe that if we don't teach art in school that no artists will materialize?"

No, of course not, John. I shouldn't have been so absolute in my statement. But I do believe that quality music and art education belongs in the school curriculum. That's where you catch both the future artists and the future accountants, and both groups benefit from it.

The after-school stuff is also important, but that's more the job of groups like Boys & Girls clubs. In-school arts and music is where I'd like to see the levy money going.

And yes, I'd be happy to see some of the 1% fund going to art education. I think too many recent projects are just phoning it in.
Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay http://www.danlangdon.com on March 13, 2012 at 9:45 PM · Report this
13
Thanks for the article Jen. I don't hold much hope out for Seattle Public Schools, but this story has to be documented and told.
Posted by Bob Redmond on March 13, 2012 at 10:31 PM · Report this
Eric F 14
It's a wild story--I had no idea that after-school programs had to track their kids' grades and attendance in school, proving the relevance of their work by metrics derived from how the kids do when they're NOT with the program.

Catalina, there are many things capital project budgets cannot fund. Imagine paying the contractor who is renovating your kitchen to offer flute lessons and you'll start to grasp the implausibility of your idea. And given the annual funds for percent-for-art are less than half of a percent of the budget of the Seattle Schools, raiding them won't get you far.
Posted by Eric F on March 13, 2012 at 11:16 PM · Report this
15
"Everybody was on a level playing field in this process," says Holly Miller.

And yet, somehow, every single arts education organization failed to meet the arbitrary criteria. No systemic bias there!

I can't imagine why arts educators wouldn't have been prescient enough to have tracked their participants' math and reading scores since well before the rules were written. The math and reading tutoring centers managed to do so!

Never mind that the link between arts education and academic performance/engagement in the long term is well-established. We want to see "outcomes" now!*

*(Only in math and reading, of course, because nothing else has any worth!)

Why, in relatively non-corrupt Seattle, is total idiocy and incompetence seemingly no barrier to career advancement?
Posted by d.p. on March 14, 2012 at 1:39 AM · Report this
Catalina Vel-DuRay 16
Oh, I know, Eric. And I suspect that there's a bit of cranky old mannequin in my statement, but it does annoy me to see some (to me) frivolous installation go in somewhere, or even some nice piece get placed in a dreary conference room where no one will appreciate it, knowing that we are cutting Art and Music education.

Back in Iowa, we had art and music every day in primary school. They were optional, but available, in middle school and high school. At the high school level, they had specialty classes, like Stagecraft and Music Theory and Pottery. That may make some people's eyes roll, but the kids in my class who spent all of their electives in artsy classes are some of the most successful and happiest in their adult lives. Even though some of them - gasp! - didn't end up going to a four year college.
Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay http://www.danlangdon.com on March 14, 2012 at 7:31 AM · Report this
17
I'm saddened and angered at such short-sighted thinking from the Office for Education. As a person of color who grew up in Seattle and received all of my education through the Seattle Public Schools, it was the arts that had the most significant impact on my life. Period. School was okay for me. I never really looked forward to it. I got good grades. But it was just something I was expected to do. I had always excelled in math and I loved to read on my own, but that had nothing to do with anything I was getting from school. It wasn't until 7th grade when I had the opportunity to take an arts class that suddenly I looked forward to going to school each day. And that was huge - actually wanting to attend school each day. The arts classes actually made me excited about my science classes. In biology, when we looked through the microscope, we had to draw what we saw and my Science teacher marveled at the detail of my scienticific drawings.

When I got to high school however, imagine my disappointment when I realized there was no visual arts offering in the entire curriculum. Fortunately my 9th grade honors language arts teacher announced auditions for an after-school play. Since I had no other arts opportunity available, I auditioned and got a part. And that's when my entire world opened up. I loved theatre. And it was theatre that finally made me passionate about school. Suddenly history came alive for me as I sought out books and opportunities to read and research more about the historic time periods of the plays we were doing. Having always been painfully shy, I gained immense confidence in doing public presentations which helped me in class debates. Our school didn't have a budget for theatre, so those of us acting in the shows had to learn how to creatively get costumes and props and sets. I remember we needed a tree for one show and two of us went around our neighborhood and offered to prune people's trees after school for next to nothing. We were able to fashion a tree for the set from the branches we had pruned and had some money to buy props with. For costumes, we went to a local vintage shop and offered to give them free ad space in our program in exchange for loaning us costumes. All of these ideas we came up with on our own - it was some of the best business training I've ever had.

School, which had always been so-so, was now exciting. I was finally using my creativity and imagination. I now had a desire to read more, research more, study more because all of it really helped me be a better theatre artist. I ended up getting a 4.0 GPA, with all honors classes, being my high school valedictorian, a Hugh O'Brien Youth Leader, a Washington Scholar, a Nationanal Merit Scholar and won full scholarships to attend college. And I know for a fact that none of that would have been possible if I had not had the opportunity to participate in the after school theatre program at my high school.

So can you statistically measure whether the arts had a direct impact on my test scores? Probably. But what I value the most, is that even though my Seattle Public School education had such limited arts opportunities, the two I was exposed to inspired me to want to learn, helped me develop self-confidence, and engaged me with others in such a dynamic way that I was finally able to grow out of my shyness. But maybe the Office for Education doesn't care about those things and only wants programs that teach students how to take tests and if students score well, what does it matter if anything that might inspire, develop and engage them to be wholistic, happy and fulfilled human beings are cut completely from their education?
More...
Posted by Kathy Hsieh on March 14, 2012 at 8:24 AM · Report this
sharonArnold 18
So the problem with art organisation partnerships and schools is that the Seattle School District wants their art curriculum to be "integrated" - believe me, I am faced with these challenges forced to provide out of school time (read, after school and weekend) classes to provide the kind of art classes that teach kids real technical skills and history. We are not a Boys & Girls Club or YMCA. We're an art school. And what we provide here is high accessible and open to everyone no matter where they come from (we don't assume an inherent knowledge of art at Gage, we're here to teach it!) but the schools don't want to make the time for these courses during school hours because they take away from the "measurable" curriculum the teachers are forced to focus on due to standardised testing.

Public school districts throughout the country don't make it easy. They want rubrics and statistics that just can't be tracked the same way as a math or science class. Their solution is to try to "fold in" art learning by wrapping it around a science, reading, history, or math course. I'm not saying it's wrong to do that; I'm saying that there is still no emphasis on the subject of art on its own in schools.

While there are some schools in Seattle which have their own art programs, art is largely seen as "extra curricular" and/or "un-trackable" which is why the city is claiming that there are no sufficient "measurable outcomes". This is all jargon which needs to be changed. So does the perspective on the value of arts education.

Arts Corps is critically important to those schools that don't have an art program. The city is really shooting itself in the foot and creating a huge disadvantage for students who will miss out on an important opportunity to learn arts in school.

What will be really interesting is seeing a map of the schools throughout the city that will be affected.

More...
Posted by sharonArnold http://lengthbywidthbyheight.com on March 14, 2012 at 8:41 AM · Report this
Captain Wiggette 19
What's most absurd about this situation is that the task itself is impossible because outside educators like Arts Corps can't get access to that data.

So not only is the entire data-driven framework entirely insane and completely deleterious to the fundamental goals of education, but even if we were to assume for the sake of stupid argument that we *should* be tracking math and reading scores to justify arts education (which I completely reject), outside programs basically cannot have access to that data.

Instead, what you'll end up with is exactly the kind of arts class I had in high-school: a one-foot-in-retirement administrator with anger problems that the district back-benched as a "pottery" teacher, overseeing a completely useless and demoralizing waste of clay by a bunch of kids making bongs.

The quality and capacity of having dedicated working artists spend some of their time with in-class and after-school teaching, who ACTUALLY MAKE ART and work on personal growth with youth is simply incredible.

Let me know what other creative writing program, for example, can fill up Town Hall, The Moore, and The Neptune Theatre with kids and families to listen to a bunch of high-schoolers reading their own original writing, which Arts Corps will do early next month.

If it's all going to be about score data, then stop pretending that you care about arts, and don't fund the arts at all. Do not use arts organizations as your personal campaign hype-men. Otherwise, VALUE ARTS EDUCATION UNTO ITSELF.
Posted by Captain Wiggette on March 14, 2012 at 9:36 AM · Report this
sharonArnold 20
you rock, Catain Wiggette.
Posted by sharonArnold http://lengthbywidthbyheight.com on March 14, 2012 at 10:01 AM · Report this
21
This is really disgusting. From the start, Holly Miller never, ever wanted to include the arts. By constructing an incredibly narrow and almost meaningless focus on math and reading test scores, Miller controlled the entire process - disrespecting hundreds of hours of work by Arts Commissioners. But real education is not the aim here, it is submission. Only the affluent are entitled to life enriching opportunities.
Posted by Miguel54 on March 14, 2012 at 10:19 AM · Report this
sharonArnold 22
"only the affluent are entitled to life enriching opportunities"

Miguel54 that is my issue with this entire thing. Right there. Exactly.
Posted by sharonArnold http://lengthbywidthbyheight.com on March 14, 2012 at 12:00 PM · Report this
23
The way the Families + Education Levy spends the money is a joke. It's a real gravy train for the Failure Industry non-profits that get funded, but nothing done and it excludes groups and initiatives that would so useful to the kids' development as humans, not bubble test scores. Yuk. We could be getting so many great things done with that money that would really benefit the kids, but they refuse to focus and they refuse to look at real learning and the development of the child.
Posted by Kate Martin on March 14, 2012 at 12:29 PM · Report this
24
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I do believe that Arts Corps at least brings their lessons to schools during the school day (for at least part of the time). Yes, it would be awesome if schools actually still had arts & music classes, but the reality is that most of them don't, and it's not just a matter of funding. It's also a matter of time & dealing with things like federal requirements about teaching to the test. The after-school hours from 3-6 are when kids are most likely to commit juvenile crimes, so I think it's imperative that non-profit orgs fill in this gap. I'm a grant-writer for a small arts education nonprofit & I filled out the application for the levy. It was a royal fucking pain in the ass, and we didn't get approved because of not tracking outcomes. Since we legally are not allowed access to that data. It's bullshit & while it's nice that Mayor McGinn said he'd reinstate funding for Arts Corps, what about the rest of us?
Posted by analemma on March 14, 2012 at 1:21 PM · Report this
Pebbles In The Jar 25
Thank you, Jen, for bringing this to light.

Seattle administrators talk and talk and talk the talk--reiterating the importance of the arts in our public schools year after year--but then they pull the rug out from under anyone who is actually trying to walk the walk, making actual access to the arts more difficult.

What does "education" mean to us now? Does it really just boil down to math and reading? Is there nothing else our kids get out of going to school every day? Do my children come home and tell me about the great test they took today? No. If anything all this focus on test taking makes students anxious and depressed. The arts do the opposite for students.

If we valued education more as a culture we wouldn't be dealing with this issue. We wouldn't question funding a fully rounded learning environment. I can't imagine what public education will look like in thirty years if we continue down this road.
Posted by Pebbles In The Jar http://pebblesinthejar.org/ on March 14, 2012 at 1:46 PM · Report this
Captain Wiggette 26
@24: "what about the rest of us?"

I want to echo that point, as well.
Posted by Captain Wiggette on March 14, 2012 at 3:37 PM · Report this

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