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Enhancing Arts Education with Innovative Ideas

Ryan Hurley

Hello cyberpeople. My name is Ryan Hurley and I am a part-time educator and writer, and full-time Program Coordinator for an arts education organization in Milwaukee, Wisconsin called Arts @ Large ([email protected]). I’m excited to share some of the things that we are doing in Milwaukee and read about the emerging ideas blooming around the country.

Arts @ Large works with school communities in Milwaukee, which often lack basic access to art and music education, to develop comprehensive arts programs in collaboration with students, teachers, staff, afterschool providers and parents. At each of our 20-25 school sites we develop a team with the above mentioned community members to develop and direct a multi-faceted arts program which includes arts-integration training for teachers, multidisciplinary artist residencies, access to art and music supplies, and opportunities for field trips into the community.

Our goal is to empower each site to use the arts to enhance the academic curriculum and the creative climate. The academic connection is essential not only because we feel it is important to enhance classroom learning through the arts but also because of the limited amount of time teachers are allowed for creative exploration due to some of the overwhelming mandates put onto school communities.

At [email protected] we are hardwired to create ‘with’ and not ‘for.’ For us, innovation is futile without collaboration, true collaboration. I half-laugh when I think of when someone once told me that when some people talk about ‘collaboration’ they mean “I want you to change what you’re doing to fit into what I’m thinking.” As an educator and an education organization, innovation is difficult in a silo or in a studio with a single individual; it is about the sharing of ideas, but more importantly, listening to the voices of those who will be experiencing the program.

This is not to say that as arts education administrators we are merely heralds or paper pushers, but that it takes innovative thinkers to contribute ideas and merge the plethora of beautiful ideas into an inclusive program. From poetry clubs that have kept youth in school on a day-to-day basis and anti-bullying programs that empower students to change the culture of their school through multimedia, to giving teachers the resources they need to develop a creative classroom, we are constantly observing, listening, and being active in the community to coalesce ideas and resources.

When I was on a family trip to northern Wisconsin, I stumbled upon a garden space located in the lot next to a small elementary school. I was in awe. The garden was in full bloom, but I was more impressed with the large arbor at the entrance, the colorful butterfly cut-outs bursting from a beautiful picket fence and the large mosaic ‘community garden’ sign greeting neighbors, all of which looked like it was generated by the uniquely artistic hand of young people. At the time I thought this would be a fun project for one of our schools, a potential program for the right opportunity, but I didn’t fully realize what lay ahead for this grainy cell phone picture.

To me it was nothing more than an image stored inside my phone, the seed (no pun) of something to be harvested (I know, sorry) but sharing with a group of creative people it immediately blossomed (blah). Teri Sullivan and Kim Abler, Co-Founders of Arts @ Large, who have put together school art garden projects long before my time with the organization, were able to take this idea and with the direction of an engaged school community, bring it to life.

The next entry will explore the garden project more in-depth, the amazing people and organizations involved and the plan for sustainability. Until then…check out this video created during our garden installation day at the school:

Talk soon.

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