Opening the Arts to Children

Schoolchildren and museums go together.

The Balboa Park Cultural Partnership, a collaborative of 26 art, science and cultural institutions, subscribes to this notion." Education goes to the core of who we are," says David Lang, the partnership's executive director, on efforts to integrate culture and classroom.

The museum-school relationship, the American Association of Museums noted "shows considerable potential... particularly in light of the recent calls for strengthening the quality of instruction in science, the arts and the humanities in the schools."

About 10 years ago, Balboa Park together with Price Charities established an initiative called School in the Park. This program is different from others in that it shifts the location of Rosa Parks Elementary, an inner-city school, from a traditional classroom setting to the resources and educational opportunities available at museums in Balboa Park. It allows third-, fourth- and fifth-graders to spend up to eight weeks in educational programs at nine museums in the park.

Five years later, The Balboa Cultural Partnership launched a school-based artist residency and teacher development program called Collaborative Arts Resources for Education (CARE) and involves four premier arts organizations: the Museum of Photographic Arts, La Jolla Playhouse, the Mingei International Museum and the Timken Museum of Art.

In its short history the artist residency program has provided more than 4,000 elementary-level students in low-income areas and 170 teachers with standards-aligned art experiences that relate to the collections, exhibitions and performances of each member museum. The goals are to increase student knowledge, understanding and experiences with the visual and performing arts, to build capacity within teachers and schools for integrating arts into existing curriculum, and to share resources for teaching in the arts.

CARE already has developed partnerships with several elementary schools and hopes to add more as funding become available from foundations and private philanthropy.

Besides this program, the Balboa Park Cultural Partnership has established a Learning Institute to train park staff, trustees and volunteers, and a fifth-grade program specially designed for the San Diego Unified School District.

Ron Jessee of the county Office of Education is optimistic. He said Lakeside has celebrated the arts as an intervention strategy and that surprising things are happening in San Diego Unified, National City, Chula Vista and in pockets everywhere in the county.

Many people believe the arts are nice but not necessary in education. It is becoming increasingly apparent, however, that the arts are not a frill or an ancillary enrichment activity for elites. Arts integration can give our young people the thinking skills they need to compete in the knowledge-based innovation economy. Our schools need the arts and an art-infused curriculum to ensure our children's and our country's competitiveness in a global economy.