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Danville Arts Program

Arts create success
Commitment to keeping arts education ‘center stage’ garners national award 
 
Kentucky School Advocate
June 2019
 
By Josh Shoulta
Staff writer
John W. Bate Middle School student  Demani Bell  performs during  the school’s production of  “The Jungle Book.”
John W. Bate Middle School student  Demani Bell performs during the school’s production of “The Jungle Book.” 
(Photo courtesy of Danville Independent Schools)
 
Jane Dewey, director of arts education at Danville Independent, has a simple answer for whether districts can have a sustainable arts program. 

“If you build it, they will come,” said Dewey, invoking the famous line from “Field of Dreams” to describe the school board’s unwavering support of arts education. 

For decades, Danville’s board of education has served as some of the strongest proponents for the district’s arts programming, allocating – and advocating for – the resources to ensure students at every grade level are regularly exposed to instrumental and choral music, visual arts, theater and dance. 

Arts is so important to the district that the school board voted in 2000 to create a full-time position to oversee the district’s arts education program. Dewey has been in the role ever since. 

“I really do believe it takes a board with the vision to say that we have to have someone with their eyes on the ball,” she said. “This is what I do. I get to focus on this.” 

For its commitment to the arts, the board of education recently won the 2019 Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and National School Boards Association (NSBA) Award. The $10,000 award is given once a year to a school board for its support of arts education. 

When the award was presented at the NSBA Annual Conference, the Kennedy Center commended Danville’s school board for ensuring that “arts education continues to be the centerpiece of a comprehensive education for all students.” 

In addition to Dewey, there are 12 dedicated arts education personnel, including eight who specifically work with performing arts in the district’s four schools. This tally doesn’t include a handful of other educators who offer arts instruction as part of a broader job description. Several of the arts faculty split their instructional time between multiple schools, and Dewey herself works directly with both teachers and students.

While many districts may not be able to fund a full-time arts education director, Dewey suggests school leaders should explore ways to include the voice of arts education in district planning.  

“If you don’t have someone bringing that point of view into the room, it’s going to get lost,” she said.
John W. Bate Middle School students (from left) Jasiah Nally, Sophie Wilson and Julius Lane act out a scene during the school’s production of “The Jungle Book” at the district’s Gravely Hall Performing Arts Center.
John W. Bate Middle School students (from left) Jasiah Nally, Sophie Wilson and Julius Lane act out a scene during the school’s production of “The Jungle Book” at the district’s Gravely Hall Performing Arts Center. (Photo courtesy of Danville Independent Schools) 
 
That point of view has allowed Danville Independent to keep the arts front and center when considering things like mission, policies and strategic planning. 

In addition to personnel, Danville has also made its 660-seat Gravely Hall Performing Arts Center a priority. 

“This was always here within the footprint of the school,” said Dewey while sitting on the Performing Arts Center’s stage in front of a partially constructed set. “(The board) had the foresight in 1964 to build a high school auditorium. In 1998, when there were renovations being done to the school, the board and superintendent decided that they wanted to renovate this facility and bring it up to snuff.”

The renovations to the space affirmed the board’s prioritization of arts education and promoted the district to use the space not just as a performance venue, but as an extension of the classroom. All of the district’s schools use the auditorium, but the impact also extends beyond students. 

From local dance studio recitals to prep space for a downtown mural project, the city of Danville and its citizens have embraced the performing arts center as a community resource. 

The district also partners with public and private entities, including Centre College’s Norton Center, Arts Commission of Danville/Boyle County, Heritage Area Strings Program, 4-H Extension Office, Citizens Concerned for Human Relations, the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts and others. 

These productive, mutually beneficial relationships have allowed the district to offer more arts opportunities for students, including free tickets/field trips to regional performances, collaborations with renowned artists, art materials and trainings. They have also presented the district with some additional revenue streams.

While shrinking state funding and increased emphasis on career readiness have forced many districts to make difficult choices, including cutting arts programs, Danville has remained steadfast in its decision to prioritize the arts. 

The difference, Dewey said, is that Danville does not view arts as being at odds with career readiness and the closure of skills gaps. On the contrary, the district’s leaders view arts education – and creative expression – as integral in preparing students for their lives after graduation. 

“Creativity is the No. 1 skill business leaders value in the marketplace,” she said. 
 
Related article:
'Setting the stage' for excellence in arts education 
Students in Heather Gover’s kindergarten class at Mary G. Hogsett Primary School takes the stage at the district’s Performing Arts Center.
Students in Heather Gover’s kindergarten class at Mary G. Hogsett Primary School takes the stage at the district’s Performing Arts Center. (Photo courtesy of Danville Independent Schools)
 
Numerous studies cite creativity as one of – if not the – most important skills for employers. In a recent LinkedIn study of the most in-demand soft skills, creativity ranked No. 1. Using data from hundreds of thousands of LinkedIn accounts, the study identified skills of job candidates who were being hired at the highest rates. 

A 2007 survey by Americans for the Arts, The Conference Board and the American Association of School Administrators asked superintendents nationwide to identify subjects that develop creativity – 97 percent said music, 97 percent said dramatic arts and 94 percent said studio arts. 

Not only do the arts foster creativity, they also help students become more involved in the school community. And that involvement leads to student success, Danville school board member Steve Becker said. 

“We know that students who are highly involved in the arts are generally more motivated, more disciplined and they tend to get better grades,” said Becker, who is also a member of KSBA’s Board of Directors. 

Grades alone, however, are not going to cut it in the marketplace. 

“(Industries) don’t want the kid that just gets good grades,” Becker added. “They want someone capable of innovative and creative thought. That creativity factor makes a huge difference.” 

That doesn’t mean that Danville educators and board members aren’t concerned with students’ academic achievement, he said. 

“It means we find that place where the arts sit as a valued piece of every child, every day in school,” he said.
 
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