No Ketchup Arts Outreaches!

I have been thinking about how my theatre can serve our constituencies. Since the assistant theatre manager has been involved in developing curriculum for studies of Filipino history in the state, I thought he might be dealing with the state fine arts content standards and could advise me a little bit about them. He isn’t really, but that is okay because the standards are pretty readily available.

My main thought was to help some of the schools we have relationships with by providing them with a list of the content standards our outreach performances might fulfill. I have seen arts organizations and artists provide this sort of information in study packets for events. I figure it will be easier for the busy teacher to say yes if we provide information to show how the artist can benefit them.

I looked at the state standards today and began to wonder how an assembly program could ever suffice to fulfill the standards. All the requirements involve a fair bit of action by the students. For example, one of the 6-8 grade general music benchmarks (non-orchestra or choral, which have their own standards) is “Improvise a short pattern or melody to be performed with a rhythmic and/or melodic accompaniment.” The sample performance assessment they offer is “The student: Completes the last phrase of a given melody or improvises a short melody to be performed with a selected rhythmic accompaniment.” The most general benchmark I found that might be applied to an assembly program would be to “Evaluate the effectiveness of a musical performance or composition.”

We mostly offer more one on one experiences to schools, master classes and small group programs, so there is an opportunity to provide information to a teacher in advance so he/she can instruct the students to pay attention to certain aspects in preparation for an assignment that will extend the concepts of the activity they will be involved in. It made me wonder if that was why we often had people turn down services we could provide for free in their classroom spaces. In schools where there are so many other testable standards to strive for, it can be difficult to find the time to prepare and implement an additional lesson for an outside activity. We aren’t just taking an hour out of the class. If the teacher wants to exploit the opportunity to meet a standard, the students need to be prepared in advance and then time needs to be taken later to produce some measurable result connected to the outreach experience. In some cases, if the student are up demonstrating what they have learned by the end of the outreach, then perhaps additional time to evaluate won’t be necessary.

Really, while there is a double-edged sword element to having a standard that requires so much work to meet, this is the way we want it. We don’t want a standard that is easily ticked off a list by sitting quietly in a dark room for an hour while something happens. We actually had this conversation today and referenced the fact that at one time ketchup was considered a vegetable when determining if a school lunch provided balanced nutrition. (Though I am afraid it still might be.) We don’t want an arts standard to be met with a ketchup experience!

Many artists have good study guides that provide suggested activities, explanations of technical words, instruments and equipment that will be used in the outreach. The problem is, many artists don’t reinforce what is in the study guide, nor are they often asked to touch on specific subjects that may be pertinent to the activities the teacher has planned. There are a few artists that are sending out study guides created for them by places like the Kennedy Center and Michigan’s University Musical Society. They are nicely put together, but the school performances the artists present often don’t connect back to them in a way that facilitates the student learning. In part it might be due to not having been involved in the study guide’s creation, which admittedly can be a tough thing to coordinate.

The study guides will tell you to “watch for…” but the artists often don’t follow up by referencing those elements in what they are about to play or just played. This is not to say we want artists to look at their study guides and deliver a rote performance that corresponds to the material therein. Looking at the standards, it made me realize that a little more communication can go a long way. Either passing on what the artist has decide to cover to the schools so they can prepare or asking the artists to touch upon topics that are related to what students are learning in school.

Many of the artists we work with seem to be open to that sort of thing and ask if there is anything we want covered. It occurs to me that we haven’t been doing a good job of asking the schools we are working with if there is anything it would be helpful to cover.

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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