March 19, 2021
Spotlight: Our Arts Learning Program
COVID-19 continues to impact the arts education ecosystem unlike any event in recent memory. All arts organizations, regardless of size, were affected. And the global pandemic has affected the number of students who have access to the arts in CPS and the sustainability of Fry Foundation grantee organizations and their programs in CPS schools. Although Arts Learning grantees are forced to work differently, we know that our grantees offer the most effective arts education programs in the city and they have a role to play during the pandemic.
How Fry Foundation Grantees Are Connecting Students to Arts Learning Experiences During COVID-19
We are seeing our grantee organizations respond to the moment and connect students to arts learning experiences in new ways. Education staff are organizing remote audience engagement programs that give the public digital access to paid livestream content, such as artist talks, dance performances, play readings, podcasts, and streaming events, and they have continued to provide arts learning opportunities for teachers and students.
Preliminary research shows that the most successful arts organizations during the pandemic have shifted to remote instruction and developed core programming that is not only reflective of their mission, but also meaningful and relevant to the students and communities they serve. Producing meaningful virtual arts instruction requires increased attention to listening, learning, and responding to students and youth, which leads to relationship building and strong school partnerships. Below are examples of grantees who have stepped up to meet the needs of students during the pandemic. These efforts incorporate best practices in arts instruction, and maintain and even increase student engagement in learning the arts at a time when many students are isolated from schools and their peers:
- Steppenwolf Theater is an example of a grantee whose education department made thoughtful adjustments to its professional development program for teachers in response to the pandemic. Steppenwolf’s education department is centered on its Steppenwolf for Young Adults productions which provide arts education programs to youth. It is one of few programs in Chicago that creates professional plays specifically for a teen audience. In March, Steppenwolf shifted to virtual programming and produced an audio play of George Orwell’s Animal Farm that was available through streaming in the classroom or at home. In the Fall quarter, 21 CPS classroom teachers at 16 CPS high schools provided arts education workshops centered around Animal Farm to more than 2,000 CPS students.
- Puerto Rican Arts Alliance is another example of a grantee who transitioned its music education program, Latin Music Project, to engage students in a remote context. The Latin Music Project provides instrumental instruction in cuatro, guitar, and violin at beginner, intermediate and advanced levels. In response to the pandemic, the Puerto Rican Arts Alliance launched an online platform. This platform includes synchronous and asynchronous activities to engage students remotely, such as recorded lessons, live group classes, individual lessons, printable weekly practice guides, peer-to-peer hangouts, and unlimited access to all instructional materials. Teaching artists tested remote demonstrations of a variety of stringed instruments lessons for musical styles, such as Danza, Salsa, Bomba, and Plena; along with the music of influential Latin American composers and traditional Latin American songs. So far, the Puerto Rican Arts Alliance reports a 75% retention rate of students on this platform.
- Intonation empowers students to become musicians through an instructional model that is student-driven, engaging, and grounded in best practices in music education, such Creative Youth Development in the Arts, Culturally Responsive Teaching, and Social Emotional Learning. Its after-school rock band program gives students the opportunity to take ownership of their own learning and make key decisions, such as selecting repertoire and composing and performing original music. In response to the pandemic, Intonation successfully moved its instrumental music programs to virtual platforms. It offered theme-based remote music instruction three times a week and virtual instrument lessons in keys, bass, and guitar hosted by Intonation teaching artists. The highest tier of Intonation’s Rock Band program that serves teens, All Star Band, produced, composed, and recorded music that was released at the end of the summer. It reports that youth produced and published six albums that included 40 music tracks.
- Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education is one of the first organizations to promote arts integration, an educational approach where teachers and artists work together to use the arts to help students learn core academic subjects. In response to COVID-19, it expanded its programmatic initiatives and developed an innovative COVID-19 online forum for CPS teachers and teaching artists to share remote learning curriculum and emerging best practices in teaching arts integrated curriculum virtually. The Forum has had approximately 4,500 page views, 224 posts authored by CPS classroom teachers and teaching artists, and 170 instructional videos created and uploaded by participants. These videos have garnered approximately 6,800 views. It reports that the success of this forum demonstrates the strong network of teachers it has developed over the course of its 20 year history.
With Fry Foundation support, grantees in the Arts Learning portfolio are sustaining the capacity of their programs during an unprecedented moment of economic hardship, refining their program models to adapt to the current context, and collaborating with their peers to locate creative solutions to challenges they are facing during COVID-19. When arts organizations and CPS schools re-open after COVID-19, the Fry Foundation will play a significant role in 1) stabilizing and sustaining the arts education ecosystem and 2) ensuring that students continue to receive access to the highest quality programs that provide high degrees of rigor and reach students with the highest need.