Arts Educatin’

I was having a conversation about arts outreach programs with the outreach coordinator of a dance group I had contracted to do a lecture/demo. With some synchronicity, the Artful Manager has also posted today about arts education.

Since I come from an organization that had a strong arts outreach program, I wanted to establish one here in conjunction with local artists and those I brought in from the Mainland and other countries. The outreach program coordinator also has a strong ethic in this regard as well.

In fact, her ideas were so ambitious, I had to rein her in a little. She wanted to have a week long series of events culminating in a performance that we bused kids in to. Since I am new here, I wanted to use the outreach to begin to establish relationships with local schools that I could eventually cultivate into something larger.

Following my philosophy of making it easy for people to say yes to attending performances, I want to take the performers in to the schools. This can be great or problematic. I have had cases where I have set up a program months out, reminded people two weeks, one week and the day before we arrived and still showed up to find out rooms weren’t set aside, teachers/principals weren’t told about the program and we ended up doing a lecture/demo in the hallways.

On the other hand, there have been schools that did everything but toss rose petals before us and were so enthusiastic about our presence, we had to remind them that we really needed to spend time in schools other than theirs.

But if you take performers to schools, there isn’t a need for the school to get buses, send home permission slips and take travel time out of the day. When I brought this up to the outreach coordinator, she wholeheartedly agreed. With the No Child Left Behind law, the schools she has dealt with are really eliminating any room for creativity and are mandating X number of hours each day for reading, math, etc and specifying rigid standards for how it should be taught and when.

The real problem then is that the schools who have the least amount of arts exposure and would benefit most are those in districts that have the most pressure to raise their scores and therefore have little time for frivolous programs like ours. The districts that do have the time tend to also be those who have allocated time for arts exposure. Still many of them could probably do with more.

The dance company’s coordinator was talking about how the focus used to be on underserved schools whereas now things have moved to drug diversion and family preservation (not surprising since the State Foundation for Culture and the Arts is now funded by federal drug money) Now granted, this new focus pretty much encompasses the underserved/at-risk population as well.

The message I had hoped to communicate with this outreach was really appropriate for this goal though. The dance piece was created as a cooperative effort by a very traditional Hawaiian hālau and a modern dance company. There were a lot of things that the modern dance company wanted to do that was not within the acceptable limits of the hula tradition and the modern company did not want to be restricted by the traditional aspects of hula or to hula at all in the creation of the piece.

Ultimately though, they created this incredible work of art which heralds the arrival of Lo’ihi, a new island off the southeast edge of Hawai’i. (In 30-50,000 years). The underlying message to kids today is that traditional (parents) ways and the new (children) are not mutually exclusive and both outlooks have significance to each other.

Hopefully I can get this into the schools!

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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