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Partnerships fill in gaps in arts education

The Glendale and Burbank school districts are among the majority of Los Angeles districts that partnered with more than 100 organizations to provide arts education in schools during the 2012-13 school year, which saw 71% of Burbank schools served by such organizations and 62.5% of public schools in Glendale, according to a survey released by the Los Angeles County Arts Commission.

In all, 15 of Burbank’s 21 schools received support by partnering with arts organizations, as did 20 out of Glendale Unified’s 32 campuses.

The aim in surveying districts was to establish a comprehensive list of organizations and artists serving Los Angeles area schools. It also found that more than 77% of arts education provided by community partners served kids in kindergarten through eighth grade.

In Los Angeles County, the Autry National Center Museum, the Broad Stage, the Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County and the Skirball Cultural Center emerged as the top four organizations that provide the largest amount of arts education to area schools.

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While the commission’s survey notes that having students taught by credentialed teachers in various arts disciplines in the classroom is considered “the gold standard of arts education,” it also recognizes that collaborations with community partners play a vital role for students.

Although not considered an arts organization, the Glendale Educational Foundation is perhaps one of the greatest benefactors for Glendale Unified in recent years. In 2013, as part of its “Save the Music” campaign, the foundation delivered a $250,000 check to the school district, allowing the purchase of more than 260 musical instruments for elementary schools.

“They identified the need,” said Janet Buhl, assistant director of professional development for Glendale Unified. “There was a lack of resources for elementary students. The foundation made that a priority, and those instruments were used to replace broken or damaged instruments.”

Susan Hunt, executive director of the Glendale Educational Foundation, said the organization recognized the steep cuts in state funding, and wanted to support the instrumental programs in Glendale, which were never eliminated in spite of years of devastating budget reductions.

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The substantial donations from the foundation often reach a higher dollar amount than many of the grants available for Glendale Unified to apply for, as many outside grants come in the form of tens of thousands of dollars and not necessarily hundreds of thousands of dollars, Buhl said.

In both Glendale and Burbank school districts, local PTAs, school foundations or booster clubs have also raised money to pay for buses to transport students to museums or to hold assemblies on school campuses.

In Burbank Unified, the Burbank Arts For All Foundation has been working for the past nine years to supplement the district’s Arts For All program by giving educators checks or providing matching grant funds for arts instruction.

The district’s Arts For All program falls under the county’s Arts For All initiative, which seeks to provide and advocate for quality arts education for students in an equitable fashion through grants and education policy.

“Since 2006, we have funded over 180 grants for every single campus within Burbank Unified,” said Trena Pitchford, executive director of the Burbank Arts for All Foundation. “We are just 9 years old, so we feel we’re at the very beginning of a really amazing resurgence of arts education in Burbank and building upon the arts programs that are here and providing seed grants for some of the things that are yet to come.”

Each year, the foundation has been able to increase its grant funding as it becomes more financially stable, she added.

The Burbank foundation’s board of directors is made up of 21 members who keep a pulse on the district’s arts needs to better enhance kids’ access to arts instruction.

“We believe in arts education and providing a whole education for our students,” Pitchford said. “In Burbank, we also understand it’s a potential career pathway for these students, as well.”

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Laura Zucker, executive director of the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, agrees that jobs are an impetus for investing in arts programs.

“This report shows the essential role that community-arts providers play in delivering education in schools,” Zucker said in a statement when the survey was released last month.

“We know one in seven jobs in the region is in the creative economy. If we are not preparing students for these jobs, we are failing them,” she said. “Arts education is a critical part of the creative industries pipeline, and community-arts partners have proven integral to this work.”


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