The need for investment in arts, science, and heritage education is real.

In the last decade, funding for the Washington State Arts Commission, which provides access to and participation in arts and cultural opportunities throughout the state, has been cut in half. Unfortunately, these cuts have a disproportionately negative impact on already-disadvantaged communities — low-income schools, communities of color and people with disabilities.

But the solution to the state funding problem is local — with greater cultural access funding, we can invest in local and regional organizations that are best equipped to work with local schools and community groups. Among other benefits, increased cultural access funding would pay for student transportation and admission costs, allow institutions to bring arts, science, and heritage experiences into low-income schools, provide free or reduced ticket programs, as well as bolster the programming arts, science, and heritage organizations are able to provide. Additionally, as audiences and memberships become more diverse, so too do staffs and boards of directors.

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July 28 2017

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal has endorsed King County Proposition 1, joined by local King County superintendents, as well as teachers across the region who support King County Prop. 1.

"Arts, science and heritage education is vital for students at every level. They shouldn't only be available for those who can afford it," said State Superintendent Chris Reykdal. "I'm supporting Prop. 1 because teachers and administrators alike recognize that leveling the playing field to ensure equal access to arts, science and heritage education improves educational outcomes for students."

Prop. 1 would fund in-class programs and free field trips for students in King County to our region's world-class museums, arts institutions and science centers, with a funding priority placed on schools with the highest percentages of students on free and reduced-price lunch.

"In a district where more than half of our students rely on free and reduced lunch, Proposition 1 will be instrumental to leveling the playing field so all students have access to arts, science and heritage education," said Dr. Damien Pattenaude, Renton superintendent. "But Prop. 1 is about more than a fun experience for kids. A hands-on learning experience at the Museum of Flight for a student in my district might inspire her to grow up and become a mechanical engineer. That kind of life-changing experience is invaluable, and it's the kind of opportunities Proposition 1 will help provide."

Equitable access to arts, science and heritage programs help close the achievement gap between students of color and their white peers.

"The South End of Seattle — especially public schools — is a microcosm of inequity in arts funding, and the reality is we need help," said Seattle Public School Teacher Donte Felder. "Once we understand the role of the arts in reducing the achievement gap and increasing empathy and connectiveness in our communities, we'll be better off. Prop. 1 gets us there."

Teachers recognize that access to arts, science and heritage education is too often determined by zip code or district financial resources. They also know that exposure to arts, science and heritage experiences are more than just that one-time encounter. Engaging with these experiences increases cognitive abilities, improves educational outcomes and sets up students for a life-time of opportunities and learning.

"Experiences with music and arts were so important to me growing up. They gave me confidence and a sense of belonging," said Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School music teacher Jamall White. "It's from that place that I became a general music teacher at Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School and work every day to ensure students have that same opportunity. I support Prop. 1 because it will give teachers like me more tools to give kids the arts, science and heritage experiences they need to succeed in life."

A partial list of teachers who have signed on to a letter supporting Prop. 1 can be found here.

July 24 2017

Originally published by The Stranger.

Photo Courtesy of Langston Hughes Performance Arts Institute

By Isiah Anderson, Jr., Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute

I am the oldest of three; we were raised by a single mother. I never had the opportunity to attend a paid dance school or professional acting classes, but I loved to dance and be around it. Where I grew up, there were little to no spaces where a young black man could go learn their craft—to say nothing of playing a lead in a summer show.

Somehow, at age 13, I got lucky enough to be in a play at a small community center in Illinois, sparking my interest the arts and putting me on a path to towards professional success—both in the arts and as an educator.

But for too many kids like myself, access to arts, science, and heritage experiences are too far out of reach. Either they can't afford them or they are being delivered in a faraway place by people from a different community.

That's why I'm voting 'YES' on King County Proposition 1.

Prop. 1 will open doors to arts, science and heritage programs for students and families across King County by lowering barriers to access. It fosters collaboration between organizations and schools by funding free field trips and in-class programs for every student—prioritizing schools with high populations of low-income students.

Funding for arts and culture programs across Washington has been being slashed in half for nearly a decade. As is all too often the case, these cuts have disproportionately affected low-income students and students of color.

When an arts classroom door closes or a school program gets shut down, however, we often don't see the extent to which that affects students because it's difficult to demonstrate a lack of an opportunity—especially for those with limited options in the first place.

When I arrived in Seattle at 20, I showed up to the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute not realizing it was the city's entertainment hub for young black artists of every genre. Every room was filled with a performance of some kind—dance, spoken word, music. Up until that point, I had never learned from a community that looked like me.

I know intuitively the impact of the arts on kids' lives. It improves education outcomes and quality of life, and Prop. 1 will ensure that schools with high populations of low-income students will finally receive priority for arts, science, and heritage educational experiences.

Take Cameron Sparks. A former student of mine, Cameron literally grew up at Langston Hughes. When he younger, he was into acting and making music. He could run around the different rooms and chase his curiosity with various artists. In high school, however, his interest turned to design. He went to college and became an engineer.

As a highly sought-after talent, Cameron was often told during interviews that his confidence set him apart. Interviewers often asked where how he got this "can't-lose attitude?" Cameron—like so many former Langston Hughes students—point to the lessons of self-discipline and confidence he learned in the summer show.

Currently, we have 104 kids registered in the program, but over 200 audition. It's the only program of its kind. The passage of Prop. 1 will help us do more, tripling the number of shows we run and expanding the number of kids we serve.

What we often don't talk about when we talk about arts education is that it is transformational. What we know, however, is that the impact of that experience extends far beyond the last curtain call and sets them on a path for a better life.

At Langston Hughes, we do that very intentionally. Our classical theatre training is limited. Instead, we opt to teach life-long lessons that translate to any kind. We know every kid who comes through our program will get more than dance experience.

Because Cameron was exposed to the arts from an early age, he devoted himself to schoolwork and got into college. Because I caught a break at an early age, I am now a proud educator, community organizer, and arts activist.

Join me in making sure youth across our county get equitable access to arts, science, and heritage programs, no matter where they come from or how much money their family has.

July 21 2017

​Originally published by The Stranger.

​By Rich Smith

It's no surprise that the backdoor virgins in sensible shoes who sit on the Seattle Times Editorial Board would encourage their readers to reject Proposition 1, a minuscule albeit regressive sales tax that will raise money for arts, science, and cultural heritage education and enrichment. But it is a surprise to see that they barely marshaled a defense of their position.

In their rejection of the measure they frame Prop 1, again, as an "arts levy," despite the fact that science organizations and cultural heritage organizations (e.g. the Wing Luke Museum, Holocaust Center for Humanity) and 280,000 students all over King County will benefit.

The Times also reiterates its disingenuous argument about the county's priorities, saying we need to "be more focused on helping people who are homeless or suffering from mental illness or substance abuse," without mentioning that the money used to fund Prop 1 can ONLY be used to fund Prop 1 because the state legislature's process for funding shit is insane. Using the struggles of the homeless and the mentally ill as a deflection shield is pretty low. By rejecting Prop 1, the Times is calling on its readers to deny kids science, arts, and cultural heritage education and access. The editorial board should say it that way.

And! Then! They have the gall to toss out this bit of Marie Ayn Antoinette Rand bullshit:

"Those who can afford to should give their money freely to regional arts and cultural organizations by buying tickets and making donations. If the measure fails, kids who cannot afford to go to the zoo or the opera will still have access to free tickets."

I hate to repeat myself (I don't), but Prop 1 isn't just about free tix for kids to go to the opera. Though they should. The opera's great! It's about turning large organizations into service providers that offer vital educational and inspirational programming to poor people who don't have access to it.

For example, do you know which subject isn't required to be taught in Washington State schools? The fucking Holocaust. This is unfortunately relevant material in a country with an authoritarian "strongman" in the Oval Office and single-party rule in the rest of the branches.

Luckily for Seattleites, the Holocaust Center for Humanity goes around to schools and teaches students about life under fascistic rule so that maybe they don't grow up and fall victim to their own biases and prejudices. If Prop 1 passes, the Holocaust Center will be able to reach more kids with better materials. This program will be only one of the thousands of new educational projects this "arts levy" will unleash across the county.

The only new argument the Times brings up in their half-assed rejection is this one: "the money would be focused too heavily on supporting the region's biggest arts and culture organizations when help for smaller, local groups and more transportation for school children should be the higher priority."

Ohhhhh, I get it! The Times is looking out for the little guy. Well, don't worry! The little guy likes Prop 1. Look at all these little guys who endorse the measure!

The editorial board isn't wrong, though, to say that more money goes to larger arts organizations than to smaller arts organizations. But not explaining the reasoning behind that allocation of funds is slimy. So please let me clear up a few things.

It makes sense to give the larger arts orgs more money because they're already prepared to do more with it. In order for a smaller organization to handle a large influx of cash, they would have to adjust their missions to the size of their funds, hire more people and reorganize their hierarchies, and then come up with a plan for engaging the community in a very short period of time.

But The Woodland Park Zoo, which already has robust outreach and educational infrastructure in place, can do stuff like expand their paid internship program to include hundreds of employees instead of their current cap of 30.

Furthermore, as I've mentioned, those larger orgs have to spend half of their money on public school programs, increasing equity, and partnering with smaller orgs outside the city of Seattle and Bellevue. The other half can't be used to build big palaces. So, again, even though the money is raised regressively, it must be spent progressively.

Do the right thing. Don't listen to the Times. Vote yes on Prop 1.