Kennedy Center selects Juneau for arts program

Juneau has been selected by the John. F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., as the 11th city in the country for their Any Given Child program, an initiative designed to bring equity and access to arts education for children in grades K-8


Through Any Given Child, Kennedy Center staff will work with a local team to develop a long-range plan for strengthening local arts resources. The goal is for the Juneau School District, arts groups, the business community and others to work together to create the strongest opportunities possible for kids.

Juneau applied to be accepted into the program last year, and is one of the smallest cities the Kennedy Center has accepted. Other cities that have participated are Portland, Ore., Baltimore, Md., Austin, Texas and Iowa City, Iowa.

Darrell M. Ayers, Vice President for Education at the Kennedy Center, said Juneau was selected in part for the strength of its existing arts community. Ayers visited Juneau last year with a staff member as part of the assessment process, and said he was very impressed by Juneau’s commitment to the arts.

“It’s quite a strong commitment, given the size of the community,” Ayers said earlier this week from Washington, D.C. “There’s a lot going on, not only with one art form but with music, theater, dance -- across a spectrum of cultural organizations.”

Ayers said during his visit he was excited by the plans for the new Library, Archives and Museum building on Willoughby Avenue, and by the success of the Juneau Alaska Music Matters (JAMM) program out at Glacier Valley, Riverbend and Auke Bay Elementary Schools. His Juneau visit also included a trip to Perseverance Theater and the Juneau Arts and Culture Center.

Ayers stressed that the Kennedy Center program is designed to accentuate these kinds of local strengths.

“We’re not looking to change things, were looking to build on what already exists in the community,” Ayers said.

Another compelling local strength is the richness of our Native arts community, he said, adding that he believes Juneau’s Any Given Child program is likely to include a focus on this area.

Ayers said he hopes that Juneau’s program will eventually be a model for other communities to follow.

“We’re looking for communities that have unique aspects, so if another community comes up and says ... ‘Is there another community that’s done this kind of work that’s been successful in that kind of thing?’ And that’s what I’m hoping that Juneau can be, an example to others across the United States -- and within the state, initially, as well.”

Nancy DeCherney, executive director of the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council, said she was thrilled by the news that Juneau had been accepted into the Kennedy Center’s program.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for our community and a real honor that we have been selected,” she said. “It says a lot about all the wonderful things we have going on in our schools already, and hopefully, we will be able to use the tools they give us to continue to build the arts education for our children, and then share this with the rest of the state. I am very excited!”

DeCherney was one of the local leaders who met with Ayers when he visited Juneau, along with Mayor Merrill Sanford and Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich — also key players in this project — and others. Ayers initially began communicating with former mayor Bruce Bothelo on the possibility of implementing the program.

“We had the transition from one mayor to the next but the commitment from the current mayor is quite wonderful,” Ayers said. “I found out he has such deep roots in the community, so I think that is a really important aspect. The arts and culture are just interwoven through the whole fabric of the Juneau community.”

The first phase of the Any Given Child program, which usually takes 6-9 months, is an assessment of current resources and needs within the school system and the community. Kennedy Center staff will make regular visits to Juneau during this assessment period as consultants, working with the school district, the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council and other groups to come up with a plan on how best to increase arts opportunities for students.

Phase two, which can last several years, involves coming up with recommendations on how to implement the plan, and then implementation of those recommendations.

Sacramento, the first city selected for the Any Given Child program, is now in the implementation phase.

“Sacramento was our first community,” Ayers said. “We’ve seen arts teachers added back into the schools, we’ve seen teachers, regular classroom teachers, using art on a more regular basis in their classrooms — not just visual arts but also music and theater and dance in their classrooms. We’ve also seen the funding community get exited about it. They’ve seen that the arts and culture community has come together to focus on this issue.”

The Kennedy Center itself is not a funding organization, and Any Given Child is not a grant program.

“We’re a catalyst to help a community move this idea of comprehensive arts education for every child, kindergarten through grade 8,” Ayers said.

“It’s unique to individual communities on what they want to focus on. It’s not what the Kennedy Center wants to do, it’s what does the community really want to do. We help to guide the conversation based on our experiences. It’s about pulling out those ideas, those gems from the community.”

For more on Any Given Child, visit


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