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L.A. County arts education program wins national award

As the governor of Kansas eliminates his state’s government arts agency, America’s top arts-support organization has tapped a government arts initiative by Los Angeles County for its annual award for excellence in arts education.

Arts for All, a project of the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, is due to receive a plaque Thursday from Americans for the Arts at the national group’s annual convention in San Diego. Launched in 2002, Arts for All has served as a kind of think tank and limited grant maker, whose mission is to help the county’s school districts devise and implement coherent plans for teaching the arts to public school students.

“Particularly at a time when school districts face dire fiscal circumstances, Arts for All’s steady commitment has kept arts education at the forefront of school and community leaders’ consciousness,” said Robert Lynch, president of Americans for the Arts.

When Arts for All started, only one school district in the county, LA Unified, had an arts education plan in place, Ayanna Hudson, the arts commision’s education director, said Wednesday. Now 44 of the other 80 districts have adopted plans and are in various stages of implementing them. The county Board of Supervisors and the Arts Commission created Arts for All in hopes of counteracting a widespread tendency in public education, Hudson said: “arts are first on the chopping block when budgets are tight.”

With education funding jeopardized by California’s budget problems, including the unresolved question in Sacramento of whether to make larger cuts in school funding and other government programs for the sake of lower income tax rates, an acid test may be at hand. If large cuts are mandated, will school boards that signed on to Arts for All sustain the effort and preserve gains they’ve made in arts education, or at least not revert to the old logic of arts-go-first?

“We’re all waiting to see what will happen, but we’re heartened by some really positive stories we’re hearing,” of districts that want to preserve the arts in the face of tough choices for the coming school year, Hudson said.

The county government funds about 20 percent of the $500,000 to $600,000 annual Arts for All budget, Hudson said, while also covering salaries and office expenses for two Arts Commission staffers who work on the program. The rest comes from corporate funders, foundations and other donors. Arts for All has made grants of up to about $20,000 or $30,000 to help school districts hire artists to teach in schools or contract with nonprofit arts organizations, Hudson said. A new program focuses on teacher training, not just for arts specialists, but to help grade school teachers learn how to weave the arts into their lessons on regular academic subjects.

– Mike Boehm (LA CultureMonster)

Photo: Students outside a recent benefit event to save Los Angeles Unified School District arts programs from budget cuts. Credit: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times

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