My earliest experiences with the arts began in childhood. I fondly recall hour-long trips into the city of Philadelphia and climbing a long, dark stairway for my Saturday ballet classes. My favorite times were when my parents took me to Pops concerts and holiday trips to NYC to see Broadway performances. Supposedly, I boldly volunteered to enter a talent show, performing a solo nursery rhyme skit in first grade. Those events clearly shaped my love of the arts and the desire to be engaged as much as possible in finding ways to help children who don’t have access to the arts and the opportunities I enjoyed as a child.
Recently, I had the once in a lifetime opportunity to participate in the Any Given Child Exchange that is hosted annually by The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. As an EdExploreSRQ Initiative consultant, I have worked closely with the Any Given Child (AGC) program in Sarasota, Florida, developing a continuous, respectful relationship as both programs have intersecting purposes relative to promoting and advocating for equity and access to the arts in our community. Brian Hersh, the AGC Program Director and Maria Schaedler-Luera, AGC Program Manager, were gracious partners during the two-day journey. Brian wanted the three of us to attend so we might look at what we are currently doing well and what we might learn from others to help our programs keep the shine!
Twenty-five communities participated in the Exchange which was organized with compelling and inspirational speakers as well as numerous structured networking opportunities. Some of the groups were strategically arranged for role-alike interactions and others were planned to host diverse participants. The passion, creativity, and entrepreneurial prowess of the participants were stimulating and informational. Throughout the sessions, I had time to introduce EdExploreSRQ to many inquiring attendees. It became abundantly clear that for most of the other Any Given Child cities, the focus of their efforts was primarily equity and access rather than arts integration, which is the current focus of Project Elevate in Sarasota. I realized that EdExploreSRQ serves that critical role so that AGC can concentrate on arts integration. I understood more clearly than ever how AGC and EdExploreSRQ complement each other and how we both can do more to endorse, celebrate, and make our connection more transparent for others.
The words, Collective Impact, made their debut in my vocabulary with greater understanding because I saw the words in action at the Exchange. People from divergent backgrounds and experiences were collaborating to solve complex problems. This is precisely what we are encouraging teachers to do in our schools because we know when multiple minds come together to address a challenge, the outcomes are richer, and of higher quality.
New Orleans presented Trauma-informed Arts Education which was quite compelling as well as touching. They shared many lessons learned as they are still dealing with the long-term impact of Hurricane Katrina. The social and emotional needs of their children are paramount to healing. Their “suitcases” initiative encourages symbolism and is a metaphor for intergenerational healing. Students create family portraits, and they have family art nights. Juneau, Alaska, featured culturally responsive teaching, which truly grabbed our team’s attention and we agreed that Sarasota could do more in this area to augment the way we approach our young people in schools.
The community engagement initiatives propelled by Any Given Child’s National Network, piqued my interest. Some cities established point people in each school to enhance communication. Teaching artists did “speed dating” with schools to market their programs. Social media for marketing and strategic communication was frequently mentioned as an underutilized resource. “How do we continue to throw flowers to everyone?” The response was by flagging and tagging organizations to thank them. Some cities offered Gallery Walks in downtown areas where student artwork and musicians were highlighted.
Just to give you an idea of the hotbed of sensational ideas that were floated during the two days: Fresno touted the importance of testimonials, and they even had a plan: “Let’s Grow Fresno’s Next Entrepreneurial Superintendent! They also shared SPARK- The Arts Mean Business, civic-minded students giving back to their community. Another city has students perform at a “Friendraiser” and businesses adopt schools for the arts. Austin trains their parks and recreational staff so there is greater in and out of school consistency of practice.
The two days were jam-packed with extraordinary ideas and we were surrounded by the most phenomenally talented people who love what they do and are passionate about promoting the impact of high quality arts education. We were treated to two performances, one by the Alvin Ailey Dancers at the Kennedy Center and to a special performance by Vijay Gupta: Founder/Artistic Director of the Street Symphony in Los Angeles.
I left those three days invigorated and feeling even more committed as an Arts lover and advocate ensuring collective impact for Sarasota County by doing my part to transform systems by working at the intersections, amplifying positives while mitigating negative outcomes and increasing participation and opportunities by reducing barriers and celebrating multiple points of view.