Seattle to the World: ArtsCorps

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Treating Creativity as a Basic Right

By Kelly Igoe

The story:
“Education is a social justice issue. I’m always surprised when people don’t see it that way,” says Tina LaPadula, Arts Corps’ Education Director and co-founder. She speaks with infectious conviction about the Arts Corps mission, which aims primarily to instill “creative habits of mind” in all youth. Founded as a nonprofit education provider in 2000, Arts Corps is now the largest organization of its kind in Seattle. Arts Corps serves more children (elementary through high school), partners with more schools and employs more faculty than any other arts education provider, and advocates for systemic change in the Seattle School District.

Executive Director Elizabeth Whitford explains why the need in our community is real. "Sixty percent of Seattle schools don’t have visual art teachers, let alone other specific arts educators.” Parents in wealthier areas recognize the void this creates and lead fundraising efforts to bring the arts to after-school programming. But in poorer areas, many parents lack the time, resources and language skills to be activists and fundraisers to support their children’s creative development. Because we tend to treat arts education as a luxury, these parents and their children may not even realize the opportunities they are missing.

Arts Corps bridges the divide between rich and poor, partnering with schools that operate at 60 percent free and reduced lunch or higher. Teaching artists established in a wide variety of art forms, from hip-hop to capoeira, poetry to sculpture, go where children naturally gather. Arts Corps classes are held at partner schools after class hours, at community centers and other public buildings.

Creative habits of mind, as Arts Corps describes them, include “imaging possibilities, courage and risk taking, reflection, critical thinking, persistence and discipline.” In LaPadula's words, “Letting kids flex those muscles sustainably is really important.” Through diligent evaluation of its programs' impact on students, Arts Corps has developed an impressive arsenal of proof to support its claim that arts education for all children is worth community investment. Their advocacy efforts now engage six other arts education organizations under the umbrella of the Seattle Arts Education Consortium.

Why it’s Worldchanging:
Losing access to the arts is likely to have far-reaching implications on the creative evolution that not only makes life more wonderous and enjoyable, but also fuels innovation that societies need to drive progress. Arts Corps makes this accessible to often-neglected segments of the population by reaching out to low-income students and by employing practicing artist as teachers who are as varied, in age, race and gender as the disciplines they teach. LaPadula sums up Arts Corps’ impacting philosophy best: “Every kid is my kid. That kind of thinking changes a community.”

In a sustainable society that nurtures intelligent, well-rounded and fulfilled individuals, arts exploration should be not merely an accessory to education but a fundamental component. If more children are encouraged to consider new perspectives and to gain confidence that they can write a poem, breakdance, draw pictures, perform in a play, our culture at large becomes stronger, more adaptable, aggressively optimistic and facile.

Kelly Igoe spends a lot of time staring out her kitchen window at the shifting sky. She also writes, rides her bicycle, gardens, studies yoga and sells apple cider at Seattle’s farmers’ markets. Her essays have been published in Rivet Magazine.

Photo credit: flickr/carf, Creative Commons license.


This post is part of the series, "Seattle to the World: 100 Best Innovations from the Emerald City."


Beautifully put, Kelly.
"arts exploration should be not merely an accessory to education but a fundamental component."
We find that for many reasons, and in many ways, arts improve lives. Kudos to those who recognize that and work to bring it about.

Posted by: viki on November 20, 2008 2:50 PM

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