Madison wins federal arts education grant

Madison recently became the 12th city in the country selected for an initiative to improve arts education in K-8 schools, according to city officials.

Through the Any Given Child program, the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. will provide the city with three years of free consulting to find ways to improve arts education in the district.

“It is a great opportunity for Madison, not only to look at equity and access of arts education, but really bringing together all of the players who can make a difference into the same room,” Ray Gargano, Director of Programming and Community Engagement at Overture Center, said.

The project began this fall, with the formation of a 35-member committee of Madison organizations from different parts of the community, said Gargano, who is coordinating the work with Kennedy Center. The goal is to create a dialogue between groups to find new ways that the community as a whole can improve arts education.

The committee met for the first time Sept. 25 to draft its vision statement for the Any Given Child program in Madison, Gargano said. It also started planning an assessment of the current state of arts education in the district, which identify areas to improve. The second and third year will see the implementation of the program, Gargano said.

Madison Metropolitan School District Fine Arts Coordinator Laurie Fellenz said the district’s arts program’s current strengths include outstanding arts educators, a variety of arts offerings, and coverage at every grade level.

“Our challenges, though, are making sure that our students have equitable access and that there is balance to their access,” Fellenz said.

While Madison has more arts programs than many of the cities previously selected for the program, the concern here is that access to these programs is unequal. Fellenz said Any Given Child will help MMSD, city officials, and arts organizations create a plan that utilizes all of the city’s resources to give children equal access to arts education. 

“We have a strong foundation to build upon, but right now we need to make sure that as a city we are looking at all the access points and all the resources that are available, instead of the just the resources that are in the school district,” Fellenz said.

Kris Aman, a parent of three MMSD students, said the program seems like a great opportunity. Aman said her children, who range in grade from kindergarten to sixth, have had consistent arts education since her oldest son began school. But her children have also had the opportunity to supplement their arts education outside of the classroom, which she recognizes is not possible for some students.

“My kids are taking private music lessons. ... but those options aren’t available to all kids,” Aman said.  “Music classes are expensive!” 

Any Given Child aims to alleviate such disparities in arts education between students. Aman thinks that Madison’s selection for the program shows that the city already possesses an appreciation for the arts that will aid in the consulting process.

“It speaks to the fact that we have within Madison a strong arts foundation. Obviously there’s lots of access to theatre and music here, so I think if we can leverage what’s here and tap into the community in different ways...that would be great,” Aman said.

Madison will also maintain an ongoing relationship with the Kennedy Center and other Any Given Child programs across the country after the consulting period ends. Gargano said the program will enrich current arts opportunities available to students.

“I think that are already so many great things happening ... but we’re not convinced that every child is getting that opportunity,” Gargano said. “So this is allowing us to look at it across the board, so that every child will be able to have a success story in the arts as they graduate."