It always surprises me when government offices sponsor arts education. It’s unfortunate that some believe arts are an extraneous privilege, rather than a necessity in public education. I wanted to compare the Alameda County Alliance for Arts Learning Leadership with a non-profit organization I’ve worked with for years called Art in Action. The Alliance is a network of volunteers, activists, teachers, and parents who want to put arts back in the schools in Alameda County (link to my old school district). Art in Action is a great non-profit that supplies (mostly but not exclusively) Bay Area K-8 schools with art history lessons, art projects, and art supplies. After I started writing, I realized that I don’t know enough about the Alliance to make a sufficient comparison; as a result, I will save that for a rainy day. I do, however, want to tell you about my critiques and criticisms of AiA, and why the art education they supply is some of the best you can get. (I’ve been there. Literally been there, at Art in Action.)
On their website, AiA describes the camps and curriculum they offer, but they have little information about the next steps. And maybe AiA isn’t as focused on advocacy as it is in providing students with art education and supplies. They have enough concerns on their hands with running their AiA camps, buying and putting together art supplies, publishing their curriculum, and preparing an online version of the lessons.
But what if they took it one step further? AiA does a fantastic job of bringing art education into the schools. At the end of each lesson, they offer suggestions on how to connect the art lessons with other aspects of education (ex: American history and portraiture in 5th grade, colors and numbers in Kindergarten, geometry and shapes in all grades). But what if, on their website, they offered more resources regarding arts advocacy in the California public education system? What if they offered external options to explore the arts?
Well, part of this lack of information is simply funding. AiA, while it may receive some funding from government institutions, relies heavily on independent donors and foundations; however, they have people seeking their programs. Some clientele may respond to advertisement and outreach, but AiA has seemingly depended on word of mouth and parental action. The art history curriculum improves almost every year, and the art lessons and supplies are constant. The small and intimate NPO can cater to what fits everyone’s budgets. There are seven fantastic, intelligent, strong, witty women who run AiA. And these seven women write the curriculum, create the art lessons, order the art supplies, pay the bills, make the website, and prepare anything and everything that needs to be done to maintain an art program that works.
Their website isn’t glamorous, and quite frankly, it isn’t too pleasant to look at. It could use a user-friendly makeover. But in 1982, when Judy Sleeth first started teaching art in her daughters’ school after Prop 13 (indirectly) eliminated art programs in California public schools, AiA was a dream come true in any form. AiA is the first step in improving public education, even if it’s not directly advocating for change. Instead, she’s doing what the government won’t: AiA gives kids a well-rounded education. I say that’s pretty f*ing amazing.