Every week in Alaska’s capital city seems to bring another round of interesting, exciting artistic and cultural opportunities. While we are undoubtedly blessed with a panoply of cinematic, literary, performing and visual arts, sometimes this embarras de richesses can obscure bits of artistic news that deserve attention and must not be missed.
Earlier this month it was announced that the Kennedy Center had chosen Juneau as the 11th city in the nation to participate in its prestigious six-year old program Any Given Child. Among the other cities previously chosen are Austin, Baltimore, Fresno, Sacramento, and Portland, Oregon, and there have been exciting results in each of these places as Any Given Child has moved forward. Funded by visionary Alaskan and arts patron Alice Rogoff and her husband David Rubenstein, along with support from the National Endowment for the Arts, Any Given Child is a highly selective program; Juneau is extremely fortunate to have been chosen as No. 11.
Mayor Merrill Sanford and Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich were instrumental in bringing this exceptional opportunity to Juneau in conjunction with the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council (JAHC) which will serve as a co-ordinating agency. The Any Given Child initiative helps local school systems assess how they are providing for arts in education, and then find ways to allocate and expand arts in schools to ensure the highest levels of participation by all students from kindergarten through junior high school.
Any Given Child is based on the unfortunate but incontrovertible fact that arts education is not evenly ensured as a key component of public education in too many schools across the nation. This is a problem in Alaska too, in many places much more so than in Juneau. Incorporating and integrating arts into the teaching of all subjects – math, science, languages, civics, and beyond — is a proven means of ensuring higher performance in all curricular areas and greater retention of skills and facts learned. Successful arts education requires individual teachers’ own instructional efforts, bringing artists into the classroom, and getting students out to see performances and exhibitions.
Some teachers are able to participate in specific professional training to acquire and learn specific skills to use art in the classroom every day and to access external resources more robustly. This sporadic individual training does not, however, ensure all students will have an arts-capable instructor moving from year to year and from classroom to classroom. The Alaska Arts Education Consortium (AAEC) has increased its impressive summer art academies in recent years, expanding programming from Juneau to Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Kenai, but there are still too many Alaskan teachers who lack necessary arts training. The Rasmuson Foundation generously underwrites many crucial arts education programs, but district and teachers have to know what they’re doing to reach out and access these offerings.
Any Given Child looks at the availability of adequate arts education holistically from the school district perspective. In the coming years, the Juneau School District will evaluate what is happening and what is needed arts-wise for the whole first nine years of public education. Any Given Child will address the best uses of existing arts resources in our schools and also assess what is available from local artists and arts organizations, with additional resources from the Kennedy Center. Ultimately, by ensuring arts are as widely available as possible in the first two-thirds of young peoples’ education, more ability and demand will exist once they reach high school where the arts tend to be the most widely taught and practiced.
Any Given Child will begin in Juneau with a six-month audit of all presently existing arts resources and a compilation of gaps in the current system, co-ordinated by JAHC. This will be followed by crafting a plan to make things better, including how more resources might come into being. Juneau will achieve five specific results as it moves forward with Any Given Child led by a Community Arts Team of arts, business, civic, and educational leaders. Dan and Cathy Johnson of Competitive Edge/Xerox have already stepped forward to help underwrite the initial costs of Any Given Child with a contribution of $5000. This generous pledge of support bodes well for the prospects of Any Given Child to succeed in Juneau as it has done in some major metropolitan communities across America. Any Given Child will also provide the governance structure and data-gathering capability that make the search for additional monetary resources more likely to succeed. The panel will begin meeting in April and convene monthly thereafter to accomplish its goals. Any Given Child will hopefully serve as a model for arts education progress not only across the Last Frontier but nationally. Given how much art is part of the fabric of life in Alaska’s capital city, all Juneau residents can look forward to great results from Any Given Child.
• Brown serves as Chairman of the Alaska State Council on the Arts, and is an attorney who lives in Juneau.