Arts Council 101 – GFAC History IX

Definition: Arts Council: A service agency established to foster the health and growth of arts and cultural programming within their defined service area. All disciplines of the arts are included: Music, Dance, Literature, Theater and Visual Arts.

Greetings! For the past few years GFAC has been involved in a capacity building program called BEST (Building Equity Sustainability and Trust). BEST has assisted us in evaluating ourselves, allowing others to evaluate us, improving our technology, strategic planning and assessing our capacity to grow.

One of the recurring themes from our research is that most people have a high opinion of GFAC, but they do not fully understand our mission. We have created this column to educate our members and others who may read this publication, so you may be our ambassadors.

The story continues…the usually timid little girl walked up to the huge imposing troll and said: I’m not afraid of you…

It is the responsibility of an Arts Council to respond to the emerging needs of the community. In the early 1990’s GFAC strategic planners identified four areas where arts programming and support were needed. Some re-affirmed those identified at the Where’s Art Conferences a decade earlier. These areas would become the recipe for the next decade of successful programming for GFAC. They continue to be a vital part of program planning today.

1) Support for Local Artists
2) Support for Local Arts and Cultural Agencies
3) Arts Education
4) Marketing

This month I will write about arts education K-12, the state of arts education locally, and GFAC’s contribution to community arts education.

3. Arts Education

In recent years, scientific studies have proven students who have regular instruction in music and visual arts do better in all subjects. This is due primarily to how the arts develop the right area of the brain. That is the area which houses our problem solving skills. It is also the area of the brain which has been proven to house our spirituality. This new information sheds some light on why those who are well educated in the arts are better students and grow to become more successful and better citizens later in life.

Many factors have lead to increases in the cost of operating schools. About 30 years ago, arts education began to be reduced in K-12 education due to budget cuts. By 15 years ago, few K-8 schools had regular music and visual arts teachers and most had none at all. Many students made it all the way to high school before they were offered music or visual arts. We can only wonder how many students passed up the opportunity to take music and visual art classes at this point simply because they didn’t know what they were missing.

The leaders of local arts agencies throughout our nation began to recognize the future implications of one or more generations of young people growing up with little formal exposure to the arts. We also have a deep concern for undiscovered and undeveloped talent. In short, the next generation of artistic geniuses may go undetected, or at the very least enter adulthood with less than mature artistic development.

Sixteen years ago, under the direction of Jan Murdock, GFAC staff, board and artist members decided that we should do our part to improve arts education in schools K-12 and in summer programs for the same age group. Two programs were created, ARTSHARE which allowed us to pay professional artists to offer flexibly designed projects in schools throughout our service area and CITY ARTS TEAM which allowed us to pay artists to work with young people in the summer in community based programs, ie: Flint Parks and Recreation, youth centers and youth service programs like Whaley Childrens Center and 4 C’s. These programs grow in popularity every year and make the arts more accessible. Our artists travel to their programs and facilities. The schools and program directors save the cost, time and effort of transporting the students. Students are allowed to participate in facilities where they are already acclimated.

For the first eight years ARTSHARE was generously funded by the James A. Welch Foundation. At the end of the eight year period, this program became self funding. The CITY ARTS TEAM was funded for many years through the State Equity Program which made funding available for arts programs to Michigan cities by the State of Michigan and was locally managed by the City of Flint. The CITY ARTS TEAM program also became self funding.

Over the past sixteen years the ARTSHARE and CITY ARTS TEAM programs have flourished. As many as 150,000 students have participated in one or more of these programs. Each program is designed collaboratively between the teacher or project director, GFAC and the participating artists. This makes these programs relevant, unique and desirable.

Greater Flint Arts Council has developed other programs to augment our arts education programs and the programs of others. We exhibit pre-school art for the Alpha Montessori School in downtown Flint annually. We offer an annual tri-county high school art exhibition and competition in partnership with the Flint Public Library and Flint Institute of Arts called YOUNG ARTISTS TODAY. GFAC also hosts the Annual University of Michigan – Flint Student Art Exhibition in our gallery.

When GFAC began to produce festivals we added arts education projects to each one. The Flint Jazz Festival has a YOUTH IN JAZZ program which pairs student musicians with professional musicians scheduled to perform in the festival. Some of our YOUTH IN JAZZ instructors include T. S. Monk and Manuel Valera. When we produced the Flint 4th of July Festival, music and art for young people were offered and the Flint Festival of Quilts introduces young people to the art of quilting.

In the next issue of Where’s Art I will write about GFAC marketing programs with a mission to better inform the public about what is going on in the arts throughout our community to encourage them to participate as audience and as producers of the arts.

Keep an eye out for the April issue of Where’s Art where the GFAC story will continue.

Greg Fiedler