Have no fear, artistic friends. There are still many a corner of our theatrical world where individuals, corporations and institutions still support and fund artistic programs geared to our youth.
Sure, we read all the time about this program getting slashed, or that company folding for lack of investment (see last week’s blog Power to the Artists for more information on the effects in the professional world). But today, we want to take a little time to celebrate those places and people who still scratch and claw to proclaim the vital importance of theater and how its inclusion in a person’s education has a profound impact on future success.
Let’s start in the Midwest - Muncie, Indiana, specifically, and a heartening story out of Ball State University. It is that time of year when the state-assisted (read: public) college submits its annual capital budget requests to the State legislature. In that $108 million dollar ask is $27.5 million for the College of Architecture and Planning and $6.2 million for the Department of Theatre and Dance.
“You can make an argument that, next to athletics, no area is as important to a university’s connection with a community as the arts,” says Bill Jenkins, chairman of the department. We couldn’t agree more. Over the past 5 years, multiple studies have been conducted in several regional school districts (most notably in New York in 2009 and Missouri in 2010) citing the direct impact that access to arts resources has on high school graduation rates.
“As budgets have been slashed and programs eliminated at the secondary school level, our theater education students have taught drama to students at the Muncie Children’s Museum, Muncie Civic Theatre and Burris High School so that no student is truly left behind as the arts continue to become more and more of a luxury at the high school level,” Jenkins is quoted as saying. So not only are art, design, theater, and stage management students finding support from the university, the students are deepening their understanding of the work by sharing their knowledge with others, truly linking generations through art and lifting up the community. Bravo, Ball State.
Out in the Pacific Northwest, we took note of two more stories, highlighting companies pushing arts education forward. The first highlights new development, as Seattle Music Theatre, Solid Ground, and Theatre of Possibility have come together to create new summer theatre camps for at risk youth. We linked to this article on our Facebook the other day but wanted to feature it again. There are sound business minds behind this venture and they make a compelling case for the importance of arts education in laying the framework for significant personal growth and maturation. At the same time, Oregon Children’s Theatre received a $50,000 grant from the venerable Hearst Foundation to support its outreach programs, especially those geared to anti-bullying efforts and bringing artistic opportunities to “economically disadvantaged” schools. When these stories come across our desk, we can’t help but do a little happy dance.
Lastly, a huge round of applause for the State Theatre of New Jersey. The nonprofit, New Brunswick-based institution has maintained a balanced budget for six years running, while reporting its highest revenue in its history this past producing season. As part of that, the company’s arts education programming participation and programming levels also reached new highs and the company was able to provide more than $150,000 in free program to disadvantaged members of the community.
All of this lifts our spirits in ways we cannot even describe. So much of what we at Propared maintain as a core value is raising the bar for and providing new opportunity for the next generation of artists and managers. Without a solid arts education, we would not be in the position we are today and we worry that there are those who do not see the kinds of value creation these stories above outline. So what do we do? We provide tools that support companies willing to take risks on teaching the arts. We work with amazing educational partners - SAE Theater in California, New York University's Tisch School, North Carolina School of the Arts, and others — to help drive up return on the investment in a solid arts education. Combining solid business planning with artistic opportunity is the strongest path to ensuring the survival of our industry, especially for our younger counterparts.
It is weeks like this that make us smile.