Lynn Lund works on a project during an arts institute for educators held last summer at Kenai Peninsula College.
File photo by M. Scott Moon
As the school calendar ends its inexorable grind toward summer freedom, students and teachers alike are setting their sights beyond end-of-the-year grade tallies to what they'll do on vacation.
For the past seven years the answer for many teachers and students on the Kenai Peninsula included going back to school at the Integrating the Arts with Integrity Summer Arts Institute, where the curriculum was so fun, it might as well have been vacation.
That won't happen this year, or possibly ever again, since a funding cut from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has caused the program to be canceled.
Celia Anderson, content director for the institute and head of the art department at Kenai Peninsula College, where the institute was held, said the Kennedy Center cut its funding to more than half of the 46 state Alliances for Arts Education in the country, including the Alaska Alliance that put on the summer arts institute.
Anderson said the Kennedy Center committee that makes funding decisions chose to only fund new projects this year, not ones already in existence, whether they were successful or not.
She didn't know if the funding cuts were prompted by a cut to Kennedy Center's funding but said it seemed to her like the center was trying to lessen its commitments in general.
The committee wanted the groups it funded this year to focus solely on folk arts, Anderson said a stipulation that has caused some raised eyebrows.
"The Alaska Alliance for Arts Education really values all the arts, not just folk arts, but one of the key people on the new committee is chair of the Folk Arts Council," Anderson said.
The funding decision was made in January and it left the Alaska Alliance scrambling to come up with another source of funding for the institute in June.
"The problem was it was so short notice for us that we really couldn't find the funding that quickly, so we had to fold for this year," Anderson said.
Guest presenters for the institute and the teachers who attend from the Kenai Peninsula and elsewhere in Alaska plan on the institute months in advance.
The Alaska Alliance applied for professional development grants, funding for guest speakers from the University of Alaska and grants from the National Endowment of the Arts to cover the estimated $11,000 cost of the arts institute, but to no avail, Anderson said.
"It's not for lack of trying but we just felt that because our instructors basically plan their summers around the institute that we had to tell them immediately what was happening so they could make other plans," she said.
Early spring brought in-quiries from interested participants wanting to register for the institute this year.
"I've just gotten so many calls already about what's going on with it, when can we register and I'm having to tell them the sad tale," Anderson said.
The summer arts institute drew together home, private and public school teachers from Alaska including Bush communities education administrators, artists and parents to explore ways to boost the role art plays in education.
With art programs often on the chopping block as schools face budget crunches and as testing requirements focus efforts on math, science and other core subjects, finding ways to integrate the arts into other areas of education is more important than ever, according to Debbie Harris, past chair of the Alaska Alliance for Arts Education board.
"Arts advocacy is a tough thing in this day and age of high-stakes testing in the school system," she said. "... As advocates we face an uphill battle with continually trying to legitimize the arts and show their value. Arts is not something that can always be tested with bubble tests standardized testing yet it reaches so many kids at so many different levels."
During the weeklong institute, participants attended three workshops for college credits from an offering of about 10, one each in morning, afternoon and evening sessions.
Workshops ranged from music appreciation, puppetry, painting, sculpture, dance, drama and more. Each class taught ways to integrate the arts into other lessons.
After the adults' institute, it was time for kids to take a crack at the fun in a series of workshops at KPC where the participants of the adults' arts institute would teach the projects they learned to peninsula youths. The kids' institute didn't cost much to put on, but since the adults won't be learning new things to teach the kids this year, that one was canceled, as well.
"It was just a domino effect," Anderson said.
For the past several years the adults' summer art institute was filled up with 50 participants and the children's institute maxed out at about 100 kids.
The Alaska Alliance board plans to meet in July to discuss the future of the program.
"We're not sure if we're going to reinvent the institute and make it into a new project or perhaps decide on a totally new project," Anderson said. "... You just simply cannot put on something like the institute without some funding source. We know how valuable it was but we have yet to decide if that is going to be our focus or not."
Harris said the Alaska Alliance has been in existence for about 20 years in one form or another as a member of the Kennedy Center's Alliances for Arts Education program.
Though the summer arts institute has been the main focus of the group, the Alaska Alliance does have a few other projects, like forwarding state applicants of a youth symphony orchestra program on to the national level and bestowing Creative Ticket Awards to schools for exhibiting creative approaches to integrating art in their curriculums.
"We will continue to exist as an organization," Harris said. "All nonprofits go through where do we find our money, where do we find personnel resources, where do we find people willing to give time to see these programs through?
"We are still are an organization that promotes advocacy for the arts. We hope to continue in some form or another with programs that promote the arts with both with students and adults."
Harris added that the Alaska Alliance is always looking for prospective board members from around the state and anyone wishing to volunteer.
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