Tuesday, September 24, 2013

What can the arts SPARK?

I can still recall the very first show I saw at The New Victory ten years ago—Cookin’, a Korean mash-up of percussion and live cooking—during the 2003-04 season. The show was electric not only because the drummers were amazing but because the kids could barely stay in their seats. They couldn’t help but bounce to the beat, air drum along with the music and turn to their classmates in disbelief. The swell of applause, cheers, and laughing from the students was almost deafening and I was amazed at the way a performance could impact a young audience. I knew then that all kids should have this kind of experience.

In a previous blog, I wrote, "Every kid deserves the right to have access to the arts...and [I] will continue to advocate for this each and every day." I truly believe that access to the arts is a civil right, and I personally know the impact the arts had on me as a kid. But there are a percentage of schools that provide very little arts in their school curriculum or simply none at all. Perhaps these schools have a low performance grade or a tight budget, but their resources are focused on academics. As an organization, we wondered, what are these kids missing? What if there was an affordable way to introduce the arts into their school culture? What could the arts spark? 

To answer those questions, we began by exploring the impact of our existing programsand last season, we did just that. With a planning grant from The Pierre and Tana Matisse Foundation, the New Victory Education Department conducted student interviews and teacher focus groups, observed classroom workshops; and documented responses from both teachers and students to provide concrete evidence of the intrinsic impact that seeing live performance and working with New Victory Teaching Artists had on students.

As a result of that research, I am proud to announce that The New Victory Theater has been awarded a prestigious and significant grant by the Matisse Foundation to create a new initiative called SPARK or "Schools with the Performing Arts Reach Kids.” Currently, the New Victory Education Department works with 160 schools, most of which already have a school culture that includes the arts. This grant will allow us to work with the NYCDOE Office of Arts and Special Projects to identify elementary and middle schools that currently lack arts programming. The first step is to identify and select one elementary and one middle school to work with in the inaugural year. Then, the SPARK program will gradually expand, adding the next grade level at each school and welcoming two new schools into the program each year. 

The New Victory will provide each SPARK school with tickets to high quality live performances at the theater, professional development, curriculum guides and other resources for teachers at the school, workshops for students and subsidized tickets to public performances for school families.

In addition to providing these resources, the New Victory SPARK Teaching Artist Advisors will collaborate with the research firm WolfBrown to measure and analyze the intrinsic impact that live performance has on kids, and SPARK's impact on school culture.

The 2013-14 season marks my ten-year anniversary of working for this extraordinary organization. Each and every season, there has been a new initiative or aspect to the work of the New Victory Education Department, and, through the generosity of the Matisse Foundation, this season will be no different. Just as I sat in The New Victory for the first time ten years ago, thousands of students will visit the theater for the first time this season. What will they be thinking? How will they feel? How will they be different when they emerge from the theater? I am extremely hopeful and excited about the possibilities of this new program and I look forward to understanding exactly what the arts can spark. 

This blog was written by Courtney J. Boddie, Director of Education / School Engagement. Ms. Boddie is responsible for the New Vic Education Partnership, which includes performances for schools, classroom workshops, teacher resource guides and professional development. She also supervises the New Victory Teaching Artist Ensemble. She is a Board member of the NYC Arts-in-Education Roundtable and co-chairs the TA Affairs Committee. She is on the adjunct faculty for the Educational Theatre Program at New York University where she received her Masters in Educational Theatre.

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