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Task Force Seeks to Bring Arts to Madison Classrooms

Task Force Seeks to Bring Arts to Madison Classrooms

by Allyson Bright Thursday, November 21, 2013

What can happen when art finds its way into the classroom of every child in Madison? A group of Madison leaders is looking to determine just that.

In July 2013, Madison was selected as the 12th city in the nation for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ “Any Given Child” project, which seeks to integrate the arts into kindergarten through eighth grade classrooms.

The three-year project is being led by the Madison Metropolitan School District, the City of Madison, and Overture Center for the Arts and includes a community task force that includes 45 educators, philanthropists, and artists. Among them is Bolz Center for Arts Administration Director Sherry Wagner-Henry.

The goal of the project, Wagner-Henry explained, is to take a coordinated approach to bringing arts into the classroom of every child, not just the ones lucky enough to find themselves with one great teacher. 

“What the Kennedy Center found is that one school would have a fabulous relationship with the ballet, but would have no idea what was going on with the symphony. And then another school would have a relationship with the symphony, but didn’t know what was going on with other parts of the community,” Wagner-Henry said. “Likewise, one child may get this really lucky opportunity in first grade with a teacher who has an art or music background and naturally brings it into the classroom as part of the delivery, but then for the next two or three years, doesn’t get any of that. It’s been really inconsistent in its delivery.”

The task force officially kicked off their monthly meetings in September. At the meeting was Maureen Johannigman, the Any Given Child program assistant in Madison and a first-year Wisconsin MBA student in the Bolz Center. Johannigman said she is excited to see her work on campus start to change the lives of children in Madison.

The task force will begin by surveying the community to determine the programs already in place and the number of children who aren’t receiving any type of arts education. Johannigman said she believes the data analysis will be one of the most exciting parts of the project. 

“Once all the data comes in, some findings might be really shocking, and some data might just reinforce things people already knew,” she said. “But it will be important to have all the facts there, because arts can be subjective or amorphous to a lot of people, and now we can measure it.”

Johannigman said she feels fortunate that the Madison school district and local community have been supportive of the project. 

“The school district has really taken an invested interest in this; I think it’s incredible,” Johannigman said. “A lot of communities can’t do this and they’re just continuously cutting arts programs—programs which, for a lot of students, can make or break the day.”

Once the data results are in, the task force can get to work applying the findings and ultimately impacting the educational experience for Madison children. And throughout the process so far, Johannigman said she enjoys the opportunity to make a difference while gaining valuable education and experience.

“At the Wisconsin School of Business, we have these opportunities to get real-life applications of our work while we’re in school, even though we’re committed to a full-time academic program. Having a chance to take all of the skills I’m learning here and take them over there and hopefully applying them to the data analysis I’ll be doing is exactly what I wanted. I think it will help me become a better arts leader for our communities,” she said.

The program’s ideal outcome, according to Wagner-Henry, is that “after three years, we’ll see buy-in from every individual public teacher who teaches kindergarten-8th grade, and that each of them will have determined how to utilize some area of the arts to help them deliver their traditional curriculum.”

The partnership will ultimately help the larger Madison community beyond the students directly impacted by the program. 

“We’re in a time in our society where the arts are consistently undervalued, the first thing that is always on the chopping block in our schools,” she said. “With creativity cited as the ability most highly valued by CEOs, teachers, and most employers, the Any Given Child initiative can make a huge impact on this community’s ability to deliver a learning environment that fosters creativity with arts-based integrated curriculum.”