Thanks a Million!

Arts in AISD get a million-dollar boost

McCallum Fine Arts Academy  students getting their orchestral groove on
McCallum Fine Arts Academy students getting their orchestral groove on (by Courtesy of McCallum Fine Arts Academy)

Somebody believes that the arts belong in Austin’s schools and is backing that conviction to the tune of $1 million. The anonymous gift, announced at a press conference on May 14 at Lamar Middle School, will establish a new resource for AISD teachers to enhance their coursework with creative learning projects and boost student access to the arts.

The Austin Creative Classroom Fund, as it's been named, has spun out of the Any Given Child initiative launched earlier this year when the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts named Austin one of seven cities in the nation to join this pioneering program for expanding arts education efforts. Under the leadership of Kennedy Center staff, a team of representatives from the Austin Independent School District, city government, area arts groups, and mindPop, an organization that coordinates arts-ed efforts among Austin's many providers and interested parties, is engaged in a yearlong process to find gaps in the current arts education system and devise a long-range plan for filling them.

Of course, a seven-figure show of support from a private source, named or not, is supergood news on that front, and, not surprisingly, a host of eminent figures was eager to share it, even on a broiling Monday afternoon. Mayor Lee Leffingwell was on hand to tout the economic clout of Austin’s creative sector, with its 25% growth over the past five years and $4.35 billion in annual activity. Council Member Kathie Tovo noted that every dollar spent on the arts generates $10 or more in additional revenue. AISD Superintendent Meria Carstarphen cited a recent study showing that students in poverty who become involved in the arts stay in school longer and are more likely to go to college, be employed in a job with a future, and volunteer in the community. And, down from D.C., the Kennedy Center's Barbara Shepherd credited the leadership in our school district, city hall, and higher ed and philanthropic communities as the reason her organization chose Austin for Any Given Child, adding that the city has the potential to serve as a national model in providing access and equity in arts education.

Announcing the big gift was Brent Hasty, mindPop executive director, who said the million will be doled out over four years, with a five-member board selecting projects from submissions by AISD faculty and staff. For the first year, the fine arts academies at McCallum High School and Lamar Middle School and any elementary school where more than 60% of students are qualified for the free and reduced lunch program will receive priority. "Creativity and innovation are essential skills for success in the 21st century," Hasty said. "The creation of the fund is a call to action to create an arts-rich environment for all students."

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Austin Independent School District, arts education, Austin Creative Classroom Fund, AISD, mindPop, Any Given Child, Kennedy Center, Meria Cartstarphen, Lee Leffingwell, Kathie Tovo, Brent Hasty

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