The weekend before last, I had the pleasure of participating in two memorable events in Kentucky. In Lexington, I was a keynote speaker at the conference of the American Alliance for Theatre and Education (AATE), hosted locally by TCG Member Theatre, Lexington Children’s Theatre. I joined approximately 400 theatre practitioners, educators, researchers and arts education advocates in impassioned conversations about the role and state of theatre in education today.
In my talk, I was able to focus not only on the power and importance of theatre for young people, but also underscore the urgency of keeping our attention on reversing the decline of theatre education in public elementary and secondary schools. Those statistics were reported in the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics study, Arts Education in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools 1999-2000 and 2009-10. In addition to the decline in theatre education, the number of high school dropouts stands at 25%. According to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, one million students leave our schools for the streets each year, leading him to the conclusion that, “Closing the achievement gap and closing the opportunity gap is the civil rights issue of our generation.”
The arts are proven to affect increased graduation rates, as so dramatically illustrated in the NEA’s report, The Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth: Findings from Four Longitudinal Studies (PDF). The findings revealed that young adults of low socioeconomic status who have a history of in-depth arts involvement were 15% more likely to enroll in a selective four-year college over their counterparts who had low arts involvement. These stats are illustrated compellingly in Washington DC and Cleveland, where city-wide graduation rates (in the 50 to 60% range) are well below the Duke Ellington School for the Arts and Cleveland School for the Arts (both with graduation rates above 90%). I am sure there are many more examples.
Following AATE, I made my way through horse country to Actors Theatre of Louisville (ATL), where I participated in an important phase of their strategic planning effort. ATL’s unique planning process is aimed at helping inspire ideas and input from a broad internal constituency. Three speakers are coming in on different days to address matters of import to the theatre field. Following the presentations, ATL leadership, staff and the board planning committee will be assessing what they’ve heard in the context of ATL’s vision and strategy for the future. I enjoyed the incredibly lively and thoughtful conversations I participated in while I was there, and I am grateful for the opportunity to have taken part in their process.
Finally, I’d like to call to your attention a new round of our Global Connections program. The deadline is Monday, October 1, 2012. Launched in partnership with the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Global Connections is designed to encourage reciprocity and cultural exchange throughout the world by fostering relationships and collaboration between U.S. theatre professionals and their counterparts abroad. The “On the Road” initiative of the program awards six travel grants of up to $5,000 each to create opportunities for artistic inspiration through cultural exchange. The “In the Lab” initiative awards three project development grants of $10,000 each, furthering pre-existing collaboration through international artist residencies. For more information about this grant program, visit our website.