In conjunction with the announcement of the Chicago Cultural Plan 2012, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Monday unveiled the “Arts Abstract” for the CPS Arts Education Plan at Manuel Perez Jr. Elementary School in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood. The plan, which is the first of its kind for the District, is designed to improve access to arts education for Chicago’s children and was crafted in collaboration with a variety of stakeholders including teachers, students, parents, community members and thousands of Chicago residents.
“The CPS Arts Education Plan aims to elevate the arts to a core subject to ensure that every CPS student will receive a comprehensive and sequential study of the four art forms – visual arts, music, dance and drama – from preschool through high school graduation,” Barbara Byrd-Bennett, CEO of Chicago Public Schools. “Arts education will be tied to learning in other subjects such as math, reading and science, to develop the skills students will need for success in the 21st century workforce: creativity, innovation, critical-thinking and communication skills.”
In February, the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) launched a series of town halls, neighborhood meetings, social media exchanges, art sector workshops and stakeholder forums to solicit external input for crafting a new vision for the Chicago Cultural Plan. Throughout the city’s public engagement process, a top concern was improving access to arts education for Chicago’s children. As a direct result, CPS is developing a new Arts Education Plan, to be finalized in the coming months.
“We wanted to engage all the stakeholders and get their feedback,” said CPS Director of Arts Mario Rossero, who acted as master of ceremony at Monday’s event. “When we took those community conversations and our own research and data analysis, the goals and priorities rose to the surface. Everyone is in agreement that art is at the core of instruction.”
Specifics of the new Arts Education Plan include:
- Dedicated weekly arts instructional time in the classroom, with more teachers and dedicated supplies and resources
- Significant increases in professional development and training for teachers, principals and arts partners
- Increased community partnerships for schools, tapping the resources of Chicago’s cultural institutions and community organizations
- Increased funding assistance and strategies to ensure arts instruction in every school
At Perez Elementary, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events Commissioner Michelle Boone and President of Chicago Board of Education were joined by world-renowned artists including New York City Ballet dancer Damian Woetzel, Chicago Lyric Opera star singer Renee Fleming and cellist Yo-Yo Ma, all of whom served as “National Cultural Ambassadors” on the CPS Arts Education Plan Advisory Committee.
“Every time I open the paper these days I read that our country needs the workforce of the 21st Century to be collaborative, flexible, innovative and imaginative,” said Yo-Yo Ma. “Those are exactly the skills students learn through the arts.”
Students at Perez were treated to performances by Yo-Yo and Renee Fleming and were led in basic dance instruction and technique by Damian Woetzel. Students also had the rare opportunity of collaborating with the famous artists throughout the day. On stage during the program, four students recited a poem “We Are Unique,” accompanied by Yo-Yo and Lyric accompanist Matt Piatt. The poem was written by the students and scored by the musicians in less than one hour, emphasizing all that can be done when tying together music with the imagination.
“The arts uniquely inspire, invigorate and involve us,” said Woetzel. “The energy and enthusiasm created by the arts today at Perez Elementary is a model for every neighborhood and school in Chicago and beyond.”
Vicky Kleros, who serves as principal at Manuel Perez Jr. Elementary said the response from the students with such notable figures in attendance at Monday’s event was overwhelmingly positive.
“They got the opportunity to work with three artists, so this was an experience that they’ll never forget,” she said. “One of the students was excited to high-five the mayor.”
“It was a great day for arts education in the city of Chicago,” adds Nicole Losurdo, CPS Arts Education Coordinator.
Rossero says it will be a process to implement the plan throughout all CPS schools, and the public can expect the plan to be finalized in coming months.
“We’ve communicated the goals and recommendations as something that we will hold ourselves accountable for,” he said. “I just feel really pleased that we’re off to a great start.”