Chicago’s Center for Community Arts Partnerships Supports Community Schools Initiative

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by David Flatley, Executive Director

The Center for Community Arts Partnerships (CCAP) at Columbia College, Chicago, has been invested in infusing arts learning into its various outreach and campus/community partnership programs through the past 13 years, since the Center’s inception.  As one of many lead agencies in Chicago supporting community schools, we also take pride in emphasizing how the arts can play a role in the development of the whole child, and have embraced the community school model as entirely aligned with our approach.  To our delight, the Community Schools initiative at CCAP was recognized last fall as a recipient of the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award, one of 15 organizations awarded this prestigious honor for out-of-school programming in the arts each year.  I believe this may have been the first time a Community Schools initiative was selected for this award.  We were honored and thrilled to be recognized by First Lady, Michelle Obama, at the White House in October.

Furthermore, as a board member of the Illinois Federation for Community Schools, I am proud to say that the community schools movement is vibrant and growing not only in Chicago, but statewide.  Ever since Arne Duncan, as then CEO of Chicago Public Schools, designated any school with 21st Century Community Learning Centers grants for after school programming “community schools”, the interest in gaining a deeper appreciation of what it takes to be a community school took hold.  Duncan has long been a proponent of the movement and while he understood that afterschool programming is only one component of the vision for community schools, I believe he also knew that this would help propel interest in investing further in what it means to build such a vision.

There are many types of lead agencies invested in the community schools in Chicago.  Often they are social service agencies, but some are arts education agencies, such as CCAP.  It is exciting to be in a position to lift up how the arts can play a vital role—along side sports, health initiatives, parent engagement programs (to name a few)—in helping schools explore the best ways to address the whole child, including physical, social and emotional, as well as academic needs.  Because the movement stresses that schools should become the center of their community, ensuring that students have the creative, supportive environments to succeed, it is wholly appropriate to explore the many ways that the arts can enhance and activate inquiry-based instruction and motivation, team work and collaborative learning.  

As the arts education field continues to develop and mature within a city as large as Chicago, I believe that the community schools movement will complement this growth as it continues to demonstrate its potential as a feasible and rich path toward whole school change.  Research is focusing more on how effective learning can be sustained and enriched as we work nationally to improve education, and the arts, especially within a community schools framework, are poised to show their value add in profound and even measurable ways.

Chicago provides a fascinating landscape for those interested in observing how these cycles flow, and in particular how arts education efforts are currently evolving within the district and community at large.  Always a challenge, given the scarce resources and formulas set forth for arts specialists hired to work in the classroom (often only a half-time music or art teacher, if there’s one at all, works in the building), the city has relied greatly on the rich offerings provided by many arts partners across a spectrum of disciplines and pedagogical approaches.  Teaching artists are a critical fixture supplementing arts instruction during and after school.

Nearly two years ago, the Chicago philanthropic community brought arts education leaders together for a civic dialogue around how a more effective infrastructure could be developed to complement the efforts of the relatively nascent Office of Arts Education within the Board of Education. This effort supported of the overall goal of creating more equity and access around the delivery of arts education for Chicago public schools students.  Similar in ways to other efforts across the nation (such as Arts Rising in Philadelphia), this is still a major work in progress.  What was called the Chicago Arts Learning Initiative (CALI) has transformed into an emerging entity called Ingenuity Incorporated.

But of course change doesn’t stop there.  Chicago is also experiencing a wave of new leadership as Rahm Emanuel takes the stage in May for his inauguration as the city’s new mayor.  This, in turn, brings new leadership to the Board of Education, and the arts community invested in education awaits a new team at the helm.  In the meantime, Ingenuity Incorporated and the many initiatives and programs that comprise arts learning opportunities for Chicago’s youth help provide vision and continuity.

CCAP prides itself on being an important voice at these tables.  Whether it is community schools or arts integration efforts during the school day to increase student achievement across the curriculum…or implementing parental engagement strategies or activating service learning projects between our departments at the college and our community-based arts partners throughout the city, the Center represents a place where deep, reciprocal expanded learning opportunities can be imagined.  Arts learning is infused across all our programs, both because we are one of the largest arts, media, and communication colleges in the nation, and because we are firm believers that the arts transform lives.  In the education field, the vision of transforming lives for the better is core.  We’re grateful that an increasingly large number of stakeholders understand the power of the arts to bring creativity and innovative thinking back to school reform efforts.