Portland schools move to strengthen student interest in arts

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PORTLAND —Several local organizations are making it their mission increase students’ access to art both in and out of the classroom.

Founded in 2012, Culture Club-Portland is a collaboration of four arts organizations with a goal of connecting students to the arts. Together, the Portland Symphony Orchestra, the Portland Museum of Art, Portland Ovations and Portland Stage Company work to provide better access for K-12 students to the organizations.

And now, a new ad hoc committee is the latest step in the organization’s efforts to get art into students’ lives.

Funded by $200,000 annually from an anonymous Portland donor, Culture Club – along with the Portland Education Foundation, which serves as the Club’s fiscal agent – has worked to bring arts programming into schools and allow the students to access the organizations free of charge.

Kate Snyder, the executive director of PEF, on Monday said the idea of establishing a Culture Club-Portland Ad Hoc Committee came up last summer as a way to look at the past three years and see where improvements can be made. The Maine Evaluation Collaborative at the University of Southern Maine has written reports on the program in each of its first three years, and recommended establishing the ad hoc committee.

The committee will examine the findings of the Culture Club evaluations, discuss the feasibility of strengthening the curriculum in visual and performing arts, and form a long-term arts-integration committee that will interact with arts organizations and schools to facilitate opportunities.

“My sense is, things are going well,” Snyder said, adding PEF wants to make improvements to ensure things keep going well.

Anita Stewart, the executive and artistic director at Portland Stage Company, said the Culture Club was “a tremendous step forward for us.” She said it was a way to reach Portland High School students who weren’t coming to events, even though they were just down the road.

“What made sense was to develop an initiative which would integrate young people on a regular basis, so they saw these institutions as something that belonged to them,” Stewart said.

Snyder said the task of those who sit on the committee will be to dive into such questions as, what can be done to improve access for students, and what do the organizations need to help facilitate access.

“This is a way to bring people to the table in an organized way,” she said.

She said creating the ad hoc committee was also a good way to involve both the School Board and city, as PEF will be meeting with Mayor Ethan Strimling and City Manager Jon Jennings this week “to bring them in.”

“We want the city to feel like they’re stewards of this work,” Snyder said.

Stewart said it has taken a few years for the organizations to make sure the programming is in place and know they’re reaching a significant number of students. She said the ad hoc committee will help, as “each of us has been swimming upstream to get the programming in line.”

“For us it’s great to find partners with the schools, and hopefully with the city as well,” Stewart said.

Snyder said the expectation is that interim Superintendent of Schools Jeanne Crocker will announce the members of the committee on Feb. 2. The committee will include no more than eight people, and Snyder said members will “understand implementation limits,” and those who are involved, such as school principals or art teachers.

The resolution presented to the School Board said members will be selected based on their willingness, roles in the community, knowledge of and experience with the arts, knowledge of and experience with arts programming within public education, knowledge of and experience with philanthropic funding, and knowledge of and experience with the school and city budgeting process.

Once formed, the committee will meet throughout the winter and spring, with a final report due in May.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.