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Partnerships: Envisioning our Interdependence

Sahar Javedani

As Director of Educational Programming at Pentacle in New York City, I am constantly seeking opportunities to partner with organizations that share our mission of educating students on career opportunities in the performing arts through our “Behind the Scenes” program.

Last year, we welcomed a new relationship with Exploring the Arts, Tony Bennett and Susan Benedetto’s nonprofit charitable organization. We have our long-standing relationship of eight years with Frank Sinatra School of the Arts (Exploring the Arts’ original partner school) to thank for providing the foundation for this new partnership.

I believe that we’ve created a successful model of arts education where the collaboration of a school, funding partner, and arts education provider can come to the table with a common goal of better preparing students for entering the creative workforce through hands-on and experiential learning.

I recently had the opportunity to ask Susan Benedetto, co-founder and board president of Exploring the Arts to share her perspective on cultivating relationships with new partner schools and arts education providers:

How do you begin the conversation of connecting private funders, artists, and cultural institutions with partner schools?
Finding artists and cultural institutions to work with our Partner Schools has actually been easy. The artistic community in New York is incredibly generous with their resources and expertise. They are always looking for ways to reach new audiences, to share their work, and to teach their craft and so working with young people is a natural component of that. Finding private funders can be a greater challenge, but again we have been very fortunate to connect with donors who share our values and wish to support public education. Education reform is a hot topic, and donors are eager to invest in models that work. So we begin the conversation by explaining to them: having the arts in school works!

What are the qualities you look for when seeking a partner school and deciding on which arts program is best suited?
All of our Partner Schools must have a demonstrated commitment to arts education and a demonstrated need for support. We work with a range of schools: some offer very sophisticated four-year majors in the arts, whereas others may only have a one-year course in visual art and an occasional dance elective. All of our Partner Schools have a vision for further growing their arts programs that is unique to their school. Perhaps that means developing an arts-rich curricula, bringing master artists to the school, or purchasing needed equipment and supplies to support the arts program…usually a school’s needs includes ‘all of the above.’  ETA always has its’ eye on how the programs, curricula, and professional development that we support will have a lasting impact on the school.

How do you measure the success of these partnerships?
In these tough economic times, sometimes “success” means helping a school sustain what it already has. The more long-term goal is a Partner School with a culture of rigorous artistic and academic standards with the curricula, teachers, and resources to meet those standards. We think that this formula can be a strong part of a school’s ability to graduate college-ready students. We want our Partner Schools to provide rigorous training for those students who wish to become artists, of course, but  we know that having the arts in school helps teach discipline, compassion, critical thinking, literacy…all of these skills are college preparatory. ETA has recently gone through an extensive organizational strategic planning process, including the development of assessment benchmarks for each of our programs.  We have a staff member whose portfolio includes the tracking of key qualitative and quantitative data so we can track the progress of our Partner Schools over time.  ~ Susan Benedetto

As for me, I am proud to continue my mission of supporting students transitioning from their academic life to the real world.

Armed with a brilliant toolbox of skills, training, and knowledge of the multitude of career opportunities, I hope to ensure that youth remain connected to the arts throughout their lives.

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