Public Policy Forum Blog

Arts Education for Every Child: Expanding Capacity in Milwaukee

Every Child is an Artist (released in April 2014) documented the success factors of community-driven arts education models in other cities, captured a snapshot of the state of arts education in Milwaukee, and pointed out where Milwaukee is strong in arts education and where it needs to build capacity. Since that time, the Forum has served in an advisory role to a large scale Milwaukee community response. Here is an update on how this research is informing related policy and program developments.

Across the country, art and music experiences had been disappearing from public schools for decades. But the tide appeared to be turning in Milwaukee when the report hit the street. Among the bellwethers: a surge of $16.7 million over two years for more MPS arts teachers; the appointment of a vocal arts education champion as the new MPS superintendent; and an influx of funding at both UWM and Cardinal Stritch to develop a more robust K-12 arts education teaching workforce.

On this fertile ground, a core group of public and private sector stakeholders took lessons learned from Every Child is an Artist to begin building capacity for long-term, sustainable arts education expansion throughout Milwaukee. They held small forums and a large-scale working conference in 2015 that engaged about 200 arts education champions from K-12 education (MPS, charter, and private), the arts, youth development, funding, government, and business.

Although it initially had no formal staff or funding, the Milwaukee Arts Education Expansion Initiative (MAEEI) emerged from these events with a mission to ensure equitable access to high-quality arts experiences for all children and youth in the city of Milwaukee. MAEEI is now a city-wide collaborative with an operating and governing structure designed to carry it through an essential capacity building phase. Highlights of MAEEI’s impact so far:

  • MAEEI established its mission, vision, guiding principles, and backbone committee structure using a collective impact approach that emphasizes transparency and inclusion – a process the Forum’s research described as an essential factor of success.
  • Following a key success strategy in other cities and with robust MPS support, MAEEI developed and released an Arts Access Survey. The survey was sent out to all MPS schools to establish a baseline inventory of arts instruction/programming throughout the district. Similar surveys are under development for charter and private K-12 schools as well as out-of-school arts program providers. Findings will identify gaps and areas for improvement and expansion and will be compiled for the community in a series of reports beginning this fall.
  • MPS decided to apply to enter four of its schools in The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities national school reform initiative called Turnaround Arts. Award recipients will be announced later this spring.

A pretty productive first phase, especially with an all-volunteer army. Every Child is an Artist helped lay groundwork for large-scale arts education expansion for Milwaukee’s youth, but it was just the beginning. Milwaukee stakeholders have been using the report’s lessons and insights to forge a distinct path forward. In fact, the 2016-17 school year has been dubbed “Year of the Arts” by both MAEEI and MPS! We’ll use our blog to continue to keep the community informed as MAEEI’s work and impact evolve.

Anne Chapman