The Power of What If?
What if we invested in artists at this time to dream up new ways to teach and reach children?
One of the things I admire about artists is their ability to envision and create without constraint. They inspire me every day to put on my “artist brain” and ask, “What if?” on behalf of young people and their education. This new reality we are operating in has us asking “What if?” often. What if schools remain closed for months? What if a child does not have access to the internet to engage in online learning, and how will that exacerbate the opportunity gap? What if teaching artists, who are primarily independent contractors, are forced to leave their callings for more financial certainty?
In addition to the scary questions, there are also questions that inspire me: What if we used this time to envision new and better ways to close the inspiration gap for young people? And what if we paid artists at this precarious time in their life to dream up new ways to teach and reach children?
Also inspiring me are the 67 donors who have collectively donated more than $14,000 to the Teaching Artist Emergency Fund. This money will be distributed next week to more than 40 artists, who are independent contractors originally contracted to deliver services to public schools around the state that are now closed for another month. In response to my “What if?” question, the YA Board of Directors approved us to draw down $18,500 in organizational reserves to provide innovation grants next week to these same artists.
Why an innovation grant?
In a call last week with our artists, Jamaal “Mr. Root” Collier said, “We create. That is what artists do.” While the circumstances of where and when they create, and how they bring that creativity into a child’s life and education, have changed, they are still artists. This innovation grant is about supporting artists to be the valuable citizens that they are at this important time when we need to “reach and teach” kids in different ways. Artists, like scientists, have the unique ability to imagine new possibilities, the curiosity to experiment, and the courage to try and fail.
So, their charge with this grant? To lift up our students at this time—to breathe joy, creativity, and discovery into their homes. I look forward to sharing the artists’ innovations with you and will pass along examples of their impact on young people.
Now that we know schools will remain closed through most of April, we are paying special attention to the 54 artists who face losing more than $89,000 next month, as well as the tens of thousands of children who could lose access to learning from these amazing artists. Here are five ways we are supporting artists and young people:
- Continuing to provide financial relief by raising money through the Teaching Artist Emergency Fund.
- Drawing down additional reserve funds to provide innovation grants to reach more artists.
- Asking foundations and government agencies to consider relaxing their restrictions on grants to Young Audiences, which will allow us to put artists to work helping kids in a different way.
- Organizing a professional learning community for artists to help them transition quickly to online teaching, and providing them with infrastructure and marketing support.
- Developing our own innovative partnerships with school districts to connect artists with students in ways that focus on addressing the digital divide, and blending academic instruction with moments that nurture emotional well-being and creativity during this stressful time for children and families.
We are about to announce something very exciting…stay tuned!