By McKinley Wallace
My experiences as an Urban Arts Leadership Program (UALP) Fellow at Young Audiences were informative, fun, and rewarding. Since 1950, Young Audiences Arts for Learning Maryland (YAMD) has made fruitful efforts to integrate the arts with Maryland’s state curriculums, impacting over 185,000 students and educators, exposing them to heartfelt art assemblies and in-school residences. YAMD continues to expand on its infrastructure to provide funding and logistical support for teaching artists to make real world connections with students.
Due to limited school funding, some low-income communities are left behind, with unequal access to the arts and insufficient program funding. As a UALP Fellow for Young Audiences, I was fortunate to be their Focus Group Coordinator for a new endeavor, Arts Empowered Minds Imitative (AEMI), which is currently funded by The National Endowment for the Arts’ (NEA) $50,000 Art Works Planning Grant.
With The NEA grant, AEMI intends to begin increasing student access to the arts and arts integrated learning in five pilot schools in Northern Anne Arundel County (NAAC):
Belle Grove Elementary
Brooklyn Park Middle
Brooklyn Park Elementary
Ferndale Education Center
This planning grant is structured by the NEA’s Collective Impact model, to organize cross-sector partnership with the intent to use arts education as a catalyst for social change.
AEMI’s confirmed partners include:
Since Young Audiences applied for the NEA grant as the managing partner of Arts Empowered Minds, my responsibilities as Focus Group Coordinator included, but were not limited to:
Researching the social climate of Northern Anne Arundel County’s schools and community
Compiling legitimate data that identifies student achievement gaps between Northern Anne Arundel Public Schools (NAAPC) and Maryland State standards
Collecting the current baseline of parent involvement and teacher retention data
Holding one-one-one meetings with community leaders
Writing a press release about AEMI for the Capital Gazette Newspaper
Planning, advertising, and coordinating, and co-hosting focus group meetings for parents, students, community organizations, business representatives, and faith organizations to discuss meaningful ways to bring equitable arts integration to NAACPC
Managing an ongoing list for resources for AEMI
Attending community meetings and information sessions around opportunity
Scheduling Arts Empowered Minds Partner and Taskforce meetings to keep everyone informed about of the initiative.
Being present during Arts Empowered Minds’ six focus group meetings in April and May at Chesapeake Arts Center (CAC) was the most rewarding experience for me. Over 50 people, including Councilman Pete Smith, gathered to voice their opinions about the initiative’s future actions.
Focus Group Talking Points:
As we are planning our work, we want to know from you, what should the impact of Arts Empowered Minds ultimately be? For students, for schools, and for the community?
If these are the outcomes we want for this initiative, what factors do you perceive as the major obstacles to achieving these outcomes?
What opportunities exist in this community that makes success possible?
I noticed a rich energy in every meeting and similar concerns about the condition of Northern Anne Arundel County:
Money for the Arts and basic needs
Drugs, crime, and violence
Lack of communication and arts exposure within Northern Anne Arundel
Student Achievement gaps in low-income communities
Low Parent involvement
Low Public Awareness for the arts
Transportation for kids
My supervisor Emily Norris and I were blown away by how involved students were during the Student Focus Group Meeting! Ten attended, ages 8-12.
Some Insightful responses:
“ I wish we could move around more in class.”
“ Art everyday, not just Tuesday.”
My dream for my school is “for it to be a safe place where kids aren’t rowdy and distracting the class” and “for teachers to be nice in school.”
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Over the course of the next year, A.E.M.I intends to develop a plan for ensuring that five-targeted schools, potentially twelve in later years, have equitable access to the following key elements:
Sustainable partnerships with teaching artists and arts organizations that inspire children and use the creative process to make meaningful, real-world connections to the curriculum
Increased access to out-of-school-time arts programs, shared with families through schools and parent/teacher associations
Professional development for teachers in arts integration to boost student engagement and reach different kinds of learners throughout the school day
I look forward to seeing how Arts Empowered Minds evolves after I leave Young Audiences this month. I hope my efforts during my fellowship will prove useful when YA applies for the NEA’s Implementation grant to make AEMI a multi-year, ongoing project.
Stacie Evans, Executive Director of Young Audiences says, “Together, we can identify how the arts can address the greatest needs of our school communities, and begin to coordinate the amazing arts and cultural resources that are already available in the community to benefit every student. By integrating the arts into instruction in meaningful ways, we can provide the best circumstances for learning for all children.”
The local, state, and federal commitment to arts education in public schools and integrating all arts disciplines (dance, media arts, musical, theatre, and visual arts) is integral to enriching a community’s ecosystem and, most importantly, a child’s development.
I encourage everyone to keep a close eye on Arts Empowered Minds. Working with a non-profit that envisions a world where all students will have the chance to express themselves through the art is something I can proudly stand behind…
Thank you Young Audiences for your invaluable contributions to arts education!
McKinley Wallace III was born in West Palm Beach, Florida and currently resides in Baltimore, where he earned his BFA from Maryland Institute College of Art in May 2015. Mr. Wallace works as an Adjunct Professor for the Community College of Baltimore County, and is a Gallery and Family Programs Intern for the Walters Art Museum. As both an artist and arts administrator, he hopes to educate and engage the Baltimore community artistically and socially.