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S.C.’s original arts learning partnership turns 35

New name, new schools for FY23


COLUMBIA, S.C. — How do you celebrate 35 years of the Arts in Basic Curriculum Project? By changing your name to Arts in Basic Curriculum Institute, a name that acknowledges your legacy and claims your unwavering commitment to your mission.

Projects come; projects go. After 35 years, ABC is not merely a project but an institution of leadership for countless educators. A first-of-its-kind national model in 1987, the South Carolina Arts Commission’s partnership with the South Carolina Department of Education and Winthrop University is no project. It is an established collaboration that has sustained numerous challenges and continues to serve as an innovative model to assist student recovery from the unprecedented crisis of a pandemic. “South Carolina turned heads in 1987. Our governing partners received a $20,000 planning grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to craft a plan of action based on a vision, to make comprehensive and sequential arts education accessible for all South Carolina students,” ABC Institute Director Kim Wilson, Ed.D said. “The founding steering committee dreamed big. Within a year, it had a plan in place. Within two, there was money going to 11 schools and districts to serve as models for the entire education community. From there, it just hasn’t stopped growing or changing young lives.”

RELATED CONTENT: Read the original ABC Project plan from 1988

In year 35, the original 11 grants have transformed into 69 schools across 20 districts, serving some 41,000 students.

[caption id="attachment_52049" align="alignright" width="250"] Archival image courtesy ABC Institute.[/caption] ABC Institute is proud to announce the three new schools that joined the ranks for FY23:
  • Angel Oak Elementary School |Charleston County School District | John’s Island
  • Beaufort Elementary School | Beaufort County School District | Beaufort
  • Hendrix Elementary IB World School | Spartanburg School District Two | Boiling Springs
Research conducted within ABC Schools have repeatedly provided evidence to the value of arts education in a student’s life. Data collected in 2018 from Gallup Organization research confirmed that South Carolina students who had access to the arts in their curriculum were more hopeful and more engaged than students who didn’t. “The Gallup research validated years of work by our agency and partners over the years,” said SCAC Executive Director David T. Platts, who was an administrator in an ABC school district at the time. “All of a sudden, we had proof of concept. It was, and still is, so gratifying.” However, ABC’s mission states, “all students in South Carolina,” so there was much more to be done. Demand has always exceeded available funding; and funding ebbs and flows throughout the years. Statewide advocates twice helped the SCAC secure $1 million funding increases specifically for the ABC Institute (2013 and 2016). Platts likes to echo da Vinci’s quote that art is never finished, though da Vinci goes on to say it is only abandoned. That  has never been the case for the ABC Institute. After conducting a yearlong internal evaluation, ABC Institute announced a restructure at the beginning of the 2019-2020 school year that featured the development of the ABC School Certification program and the Arts in Basic Curriculum mobile app as the primary tool to serve a redefined ABC Network, and eventually its name change.  Then in 2021, the greatest challenge in recent memory became the greatest opportunity for arts learning initiatives.

Pandemic-related school closures introduced unprecedented learning loss to South Carolina students over two school years.

The American Rescue Plan made funding available to all states to assist in addressing any number of crises, and the SCDE was allotted $2 billion in ARP Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funding. The SCAC approached SCDE with a radical idea: we can prove arts learning increases student engagement, it is what students needs to get through this, and we can help address learning loss with arts and creativity using the ABC Institute as a key partner. Superintendent Molly Spearman agreed, and South Carolina turned heads again in June 2021: SCDE committed $20 million over three years to help the SCAC expand ABC Institute and other initiatives using key partners on the local, state, and national levels. “Having the rich history of success with ABC made it easy to sell our idea, but it was only part of the plan for what we now call Arts Grow SC,” Platts said. “It’s after-school learning. It’s summer camps. Eventually, we hope for even more, and all of it uses arts-rich learning.”

RELATED HUB CONTENT: Arts Grow SC to expand, first executive director named

ABC Institute continues to grow and innovate thanks to unprecedented funding.

The Certification designation recognizes model practices of what arts learning can be and how it contributes to student development and achievement. As Wilson explained, “ABC Certified Schools serve as a model for others. ABC Schools commit to not only their students but sharing their work for the benefit of all SC students.” Through Arts Grow SC, ABC Schools have offered themselves as ‘learning laboratories” for others to learn how to leverage the power of learning in and through the arts for accelerated learning. Thanks to the new structure, anyone can access the Arts in Basic Curriculum mobile app and connect to the ABC network. “Our peer-to-peer networking has always been a strength, and now we are putting that in the palm of a teacher’s hand.” Wilson said. From its base at Winthrop University, a team of professionals dedicated to the erstwhile “project” with a steadfast vision of equitable access to quality arts education for all students, continues its work. To learn more about ABC Institute, its programs, and opportunity to learn from its network of leadership, visit www.abcinstitutesc.org.
South Carolina Arts Commission News Release, Media Contact: Jason L. Rapp, Communications Director. jrapp@arts.sc.gov or 803.734.8899

Jason Rapp

Arts Grow SC to expand, first executive director named

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE A woman is smiling, Headline reads "Breaking News"

The South Carolina Arts Commission and the South Carolina Department of Education announce the expansion of Arts Grow SC as a permanent fixture in the state’s arts learning landscape.

Arts Grow SC began in July 2021 as a three-year partnership between the South Carolina Department of Education and the South Carolina Arts Commission to use ARP ESSER funds to help public schools address pandemic-related learning loss with proven, arts-based learning initiatives. This landmark investment of $20 million allows a professional team and a network of partners to help schools and teachers fill learning loss gaps, use arts integration to remediate core subject areas,​ and provide summer and afterschool learning opportunities.​ This newly announced expansion establishes Arts Grow SC as a permanent part of the arts learning community. It will utilize a collective impact model, with the SCAC serving as the backbone for the work. This approach brings greater sustainability: building on the strengths of the SCDE, the SCAC, partnering organizations, schools, and districts. The collective impact model will activate existing education consortiums, shared-resource school districts, and newly identified hubs in areas not currently being served. These hubs will enable statewide programs and services. The flagship physical location for a more permanent Arts Grow SC will be the Spearman Center for Arts Innovation, located in Columbia at 1026 Sumter Street. Named for former music teacher and current state Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman, the Spearman Center will provide:
  • direct programs
  • professional learning
  • events
  • resource distribution
  • exhibitions
SCAC Deputy Director Ashley Brown has been appointed executive director of Arts Grow SC and the Spearman Center for Arts Innovation. Brown has served throughout the Southeast as a nonprofit and higher education administrator, public school teacher, stage manager, teaching artist, and director. She received her bachelor of arts in theatre from Winthrop University and her Master of Fine Art in theatre management from Florida State University.
Current Arts Grow SC partners include:
  • the Arts in Basic Curriculum Institute;
  • Engaging Creative Minds;
  • S.C. Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities;
  • ArtsNOW;
  • Boys and Girls Club of the Crescent Region;
  • S.C. Educational Television;
  • S.C. Arts Alliance;
  • Palmetto State Arts Education;
  • Education Commission of the States/Arts Education Partnerships;
  • and the Research, Evaluation, and Measurement Center at the University of South Carolina. 
“In just a year we have rallied a statewide network to use the arts to address COVID-19 related learning loss. Using a collective impact model, Arts Grow SC and the Spearman Center for Arts Innovation will work to ensure every student in South Carolina has access to quality arts education and experiences," Brown said. "I can’t think of a better way to honor the legacy of Superintendent Spearman and all she has done for the arts in South Carolina.” “I have seen first-hand the tremendous impact that the arts can have on student engagement and academic achievement,” Spearman remarked. “Throughout my career in public education, I have strived to bring these opportunities to all students across our state and am so honored that the South Carolina Arts Commission has chosen to name this center after me. I look forward to seeing the innovative practices and programs that this center will grow and support.” “This is an exciting time for the arts in South Carolina,” said SCAC Executive Director David Platts. “Building on the strong foundation of existing partnerships across the state, Arts Grow SC stands as a model of how we, as state agencies, can work together with local consortia, organizations and school districts to help students most directly impacted by COVID recover and position themselves for future academic success.  I can think of no more fitting tribute to Superintendent Spearman, whose life and career have been dedicated to turning challenges into opportunities in order to better serve students from all over South Carolina.”
While Arts Grow SC programs, grants, and professional learning opportunities are already taking place, the SCAC hopes to site work on the Spearman Center for Arts Innovation in the coming year. To learn more about Arts Grow SC, visit ArtsGrowSC.org.
South Carolina Arts Commission News Release, Media Contact: Jason L. Rapp, Communications Director. jrapp@arts.sc.gov or 803.734.8899

Margot Lane Strasburger

Five-year case study to seek improvements in rural arts ed

The Arts in Basic Curriculum (ABC) Project announced it will conduct an intensive five-year case study with the Allendale County School District to discover solutions in how to improve rural communities’ arts education offerings.

The Community Access to the Arts in Rural Education (CARE) Project, its study and resulting guidebook will be accomplished with a $2.58 million Assistance in Arts Education grant funded by the U.S. Dept. of Education. Set to begin in 2021, the CARE Project will include multiple strategic state and local partnerships with the goal to develop sustainable approaches that will continue beyond the 2026 grant completion date. “Rural communities require a rural network of partnerships because of their lack of resources, and the CARE Project will align, strengthen and expand community partnerships among the Allendale schools with state and local partners,” ABC Project Director Kim Wilson said. Initial commitments to the CARE Project were received from the South Carolina Arts Commission (SCAC), South Carolina Department of Education, Arts Access SC and South Carolina Educational Television. Additional state and national partners will develop based on the needs and areas of growth identified throughout the CARE Project. Margaret Gilmore, superintendent of Allendale County School District, said her district is truly excited and grateful to have been awarded the arts grant for the amazing scholars of Allendale County School District. “This funding opportunity will certainly provide access to a sustainable arts-rich learning environment for the entire school community,” she said.
Arts advocates also are pleased with this opportunity. “After many years of working in Allendale County, it’s clear that there are many people who love and care about their community and the next generation,” said Susan DuPlessis, SCAC director of community arts development.  “We are excited about ways to engage the community as this study and new practices are developed.” DuPlessis runs the SCAC's "The Art of Community: Rural SC" initiative, which works in partnership with Allendale Rural Arts Team, which is led by Lottie Lewis. “There is momentum in Allendale for building community, addressing issues and identifying assets like never before,” she said. “This new emphasis on learning through the arts within the school system will have a reciprocal effect, I believe, on the whole community—and that’s exciting for young and old.” In communities with high rates of poverty, access to the arts can be difficult, Wilson added. It takes money for art, music or dance lessons, and all too often, rural schools don’t prioritize arts education due to financial constraints. Access to the arts, however, has been found to influence student engagement and there is hope in South Carolina that the arts can be nurtured in every community.
The CARE Project’s goal is to create and share a resource guidebook based on Allendale’s experiences to empower other rural communities of persistent poverty to increase access to arts education for its students. “One of the most important outcomes will be to explore how to develop and maintain arts-rich learning environments as a pathway to equitable education,” Wilson said. “There is an urgent need to research and serve these communities, which have been continually absent from research and policy discussions, yet represent the most extreme gaps in equitable education,” she added. To communicate the grant’s significance, Wilson noted that the Palmetto state has a higher percentage of schools in rural communities than the national average and 12 of the state's 46 counties suffer from persistent poverty, meaning poverty rates have exceeded 20 percent of the population for more than 30 years. The CARE Project will provide direct arts education programs and professional development for arts educators, teachers and principals in practices that support arts-rich learning. “An arts-rich learning environment includes a combination of direct arts instruction, arts integration with other non-arts curriculum and arts experiences provided by visiting artists or cultural and community organizations,” said Wilson. The guidebook will contain instructional materials, arts-based lesson plans and other resources to engage stakeholder groups in other rural communities to replicate the promising aspects of the process developed during the CARE Project in Allendale. Education Superintendent Molly Spearman said that, growing up and teaching in a rural community, she has seen firsthand the disparities that still exist in South Carolina. “Students in rural schools deserve the same opportunities afforded to their peers in more affluent areas,” Spearman said. “I commend the Arts in Basic Curriculum Project for its pursuit and receipt of this funding that will help us establish innovative solutions for bringing access to arts-based education to all students in South Carolina. I look forward to seeing this work in Allendale and learning how we may replicate their successes across our state.”

Jason Rapp

$20 million partnership to expand S.C. arts learning initiatives

SCAC, S.C. Dept. of Education make landmark announcement

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="601"]Photo of elementary-aged students and their teachers doing projects in an arts classroom. An Arts in Basic Curriculum Project site classroom. SCAC file photo.[/caption]
For Immediate Release

A $20 million partnership announced today by the South Carolina Department of Education and South Carolina Arts Commission will help public schools throughout the state address pandemic related learning loss with proven, arts-based learning initiatives.

The American Rescue Plan, passed by the U.S. Congress and signed into law March 11, 2021 by President Biden, included $121.9 billion in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds (ARP ESSER), that has been administered through the U.S. Department of Education to state educational agencies. The South Carolina Department of Education (SCDE) is set to receive $2.1 billion in ARP ESSER funds to help South Carolina’s public schools address the impact that COVID-19 has and continues to have on students, families, educators, and school communities. Ninety percent of these funds will flow through to school districts with amounts determined in proportion to the amount of Title I, Part A funds they received in Summer 2020 from funds under the Every Student Succeeds Act. The remaining funds, which amount to $211,205,148 are to be used for state-level activities to address learning loss, summer enrichment programs, and comprehensive after school programs. The SCDE solicited public input on the use of these funds and the needs that the state should address in its ARP ESSER plan which was submitted to the U.S. Department of Education on June 18, 2021. Leadership from the South Carolina Arts Commission (SCAC) proposed to SCDE a creative pathway—rooted in innovation and evidence-based practices—that the arts are equipped to provide. Funding was requested to allow the SCAC’s team of professionals and network of partners to:
  • help schools and teachers fill learning loss gaps in the arts,
  • use arts integration to remediate core subject areas,
  • and provide summer and afterschool learning opportunities that leverage the arts in schools throughout the state.
The SCDE approved $20 million for the SCAC to implement its plan over the course of the next three years. “As a longtime music teacher, I have seen firsthand the impact that arts education can have on students,” said State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman. “The arts have a unique ability to engage students of diverse backgrounds across all subject areas which makes this initiative well suited for the receipt of these funds.” “The South Carolina Arts Commission is confident in its ability to put this funding to use right away to equitably impact learning using the arts,” SCAC Executive Director David Platts said. “Our team of professionals manages existing programs, partnerships, and grant-making infrastructure for this work, which includes federal and state reporting for accountability. ARP ESSER funding from the SCDE will enable expedient and effective scaling with various arts education partners on the local, state, and national levels.” Programmatic focus areas of the SCAC’s plan include:
  • Arts integration
  • Arts in early childhood
  • Arts industry certification credentials for high school students, building on existing vocational training programs
To realize its classroom-based goals, the SCAC will rely on its partners at the Arts in Basic Curriculum (ABC) Project, which currently serves about 44,000 students in 74 schools and has been cooperatively led for more than 30 years by the SCAC, SCDE, and Winthrop University. The ARP ESSER funding will facilitate scaling the program to:
  • increase access to quality arts education (targeting underserved communities)
  • develop arts-rich learning environments
  • build, restore, expand, and support infrastructure for arts learning at the district level
  • research and develop new and innovative instructional practices.
“We have a couple of years’ worth of recent Gallup Organization research looking at South Carolina’s arts-rich schools. It repeatedly shows a link between arts-rich learning and student hope and engagement. We have dreamed about having the kind of funding that would enable expansion to all communities throughout the state,” SCAC Board Chairwoman Dee Crawford said. In addition to building on the work of the ABC Project, the Arts Commission will expand existing pilot projects with the South Carolina Governor’s School for Arts & Humanities in Greenville and Engaging Creative Minds in Charleston, and will offer grant and programming opportunities for arts education providers across the state. “Arts and creativity are critical to achieving the knowledge, skills, and characteristics outlined by the Profile of the South Carolina Graduate. We are excited to work with grantees, statewide partners in arts education, and other arts providers to ensure equitable access to learning in and through the arts,” Platts said. “This partnership fully supports our mission to promote equitable access to the arts and support the cultivation of creativity in South Carolina.” The SCAC is working now to release information on grant guidelines, research to support evidence-based practices, partnership and professional learning opportunities, and more in coming weeks. Starting in July, these resources will be available at www.abcprojectsc.com.

Jason Rapp

Arts classrooms included in AccelerateED draft guidelines

Public input sought until June 19

South Carolina Education Superintendent Molly Spearman convened the first meeting of AccelerateED, the Department of Education’s task force on school operations in April in the wake of COVID-19.

The task force was charged with developing guidelines on reopening schools across the state next school year. Today (June 15), the task force released its draft report and opened it up for public comment through June 19. The arts, including arts classrooms specifically, were included in these recommendations. SCAC partners the South Carolina Arts Alliance and the ABC Project, along with the S.C. Music Educators Association, were invited to provide input on how districts should continue providing access to a well-rounded education, especially in the arts, in the wake of COVID-19 next school year. AccelerateED is taking public comment on these recommendations until Friday, June 19. Click here to see how to send in your endorsement or your own recommendations.

Jason Rapp

Arts education leader Christine Fisher announces retirement

Fisher led Arts in Basic Curriculum Project for 18 years

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 13 March 2019 [caption id="attachment_39351" align="alignright" width="225"]Christine Fisher Christine Fisher[/caption] COLUMBIA, S.C. – Christine Fisher is to retire from the Arts in Basic Curriculum (ABC) Project this month after spending nearly 20 years working to provide comprehensive arts programs in schools across the state. Fisher, who lives in Florence, began her career in arts education in the classroom, teaching chorus, guitar and musical production at Dillon High School and then elementary general music, beginning band and middle school band in Florence School District One through 2001. She left that year to become executive director of the ABC Project, a partnership among the S.C. Arts Commission, Winthrop University, and S.C. Department of Education that works with schools and districts across the state to maintain and expand arts opportunities for all students. It is based at Winthrop in Rock Hill. Under Fisher’s leadership, the program grew to serve 84 schools or districts and 171,000 students this school year and played an important role in making sure the arts were included in the landmark Profile of the South Carolina Graduate in 2015, a rigorous set of standards for college and career readiness adopted by the state General Assembly in 2016. “Christine Fisher has spent her entire career being a tireless advocate and supporter of arts based education in South Carolina. I am so appreciative of Christine’s leadership from being the only music teacher to be named our state teacher of the year to her service as the director of the Arts in Basic Curriculum Project where she has brought access to the arts to students across our state and shared her tremendous wealth of knowledge with countless educators. I along with South Carolina’s arts community will miss her dearly,” S.C. Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman said. Many highlights dot the timeline of Fisher’s career. She was twice selected as a school and district Teacher of the Year, and twice selected as one of the five South Carolina honor roll teachers. Selected as the South Carolina Teacher of the Year in 1998, she is the only music teacher to hold the honor in the program's history. The S.C. Arts Commission awarded her state’s highest arts award, the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Governor’s Award for the Arts, in 2006, and she received the Winthrop University Medal of Arts in 2012. “She has changed many thousands of young lives for the better. They, and we, owe her heartfelt thanks and praise for her life of unselfish, tireless devotion to arts education for everyone. We wish her nothing but the best in her retirement—and more time for music-making,” S.C. Arts Commission Executive Director Ken May said.

Full Statements on Christine Fisher's retirement

MOLLY SPEARMAN S.C. Superintendent of Education

“Christine Fisher has spent her entire career being a tireless advocate and supporter of arts based education in South Carolina. I am so appreciative of Christine’s leadership from being the only music teacher to be named our state teacher of the year to her service as the director of the Arts in Basic Curriculum Project where she has brought access to the arts to students across our state and shared her tremendous wealth of knowledge with countless educators. I along with South Carolina’s arts community will miss her dearly.”

KEN MAY Executive Director, S.C. Arts Commission

“The first time I ever heard Christine Fisher speak, she told the moving and powerful story of how the arts, specifically music, saved her life. As I reflect now on her retirement, I realize that all of her work, her entire amazing career, has been about paying forward—at increasing orders of magnitude—the wonderful, transformative gift that she was given. From her early days teaching in Dillon and Florence, to her ground-breaking tenure as State Teacher of the Year, to her long, outstanding service as Executive Director of the Arts in Basic Curriculum Project, she has changed many thousands of young lives for the better. They, and we, owe her heartfelt thanks and praise for her life of unselfish, tireless devotion to arts education for everyone. We wish her nothing but the best in her retirement—and more time for music-making!”

JEFF BELLANTONI Dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts, Winthrop University

“Christine has been an integral part of the arts community at Winthrop University for 18 years. We had the pleasure of recognizing the impact she has made in 2012 when she was awarded our Medal of Honor in the Arts. Her passion and commitment to integrating the arts into education throughout the state is unmatched. Christine’s steadfast support of the arts is evident through her many years of service as an educator and arts advocate, and she will be missed.”

About the South Carolina Arts Commission

With a commitment to excellence across the spectrum of our state’s cultures and forms of expression, the South Carolina Arts Commission pursues its public charge to develop a thriving arts environment, which is essential to quality of life, education, and economic vitality for all South Carolinians. Created by the South Carolina General Assembly in 1967, the Arts Commission works to increase public participation in the arts by providing services, grants, and leadership initiatives in three areas:
  • arts education,
  • community arts development,
  • and artist development.
Headquartered in Columbia, S.C., the Arts Commission is funded by the state of South Carolina, by the federal government through the National Endowment for the Arts and other sources. For more information, visit SouthCarolinaArts.com or call 803.734.8696.

Laurens County Visual Arts Coordinator finalist for Teacher of the Year

From GoLaurens.com
Marcia WombleState Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman surprised Gray Court-Owings teacher, Marcia Womble, in her classroom with news that she has been selected as one of five finalists for the South Carolina Teacher of the Year award.
"Marcia is the proud product of Laurens County public schools and is truly devoted to ensuring that her students receive a well-rounded arts infused education," said Superintendent Spearman. "I am so proud of her devotion to arts education and look forward to her continued leadership." Marcia Womble is a Visual Arts teacher at Gray Court-Owings Elementary and Middle School in Laurens County School District 55. She also serves as the District Visual Arts Coordinator. Drawn to teaching at a young age, Womble has opened doors for her students by obtaining several grants to purchase new art media, tools, and sponsorship for her annual Arts Day. During Arts Day, each class visits with different artists, musicians, dancers, authors, and actors. She believes in the power of positivity and starts each class by getting her students to “tell her something good.” ”Marcia Womble is a great example of what today's students need; a great teacher who understands the importance of how to capture, inspire, and teach all of her students in ways that they receive the greatest benefit. She exemplifies the qualities parents desire, principals expect and colleagues emulate. As superintendent of schools in Laurens County 55, I am grateful to be her leader and enjoy working with her to advance the important work assigned to us. Mrs. Womble is one of the best teachers I've had the opportunity to work with in my 37 years in public education,” said Laurens County School District 55 superintendent Dr. Stephen Peters. As one of five finalists, Womble will receive $10,000 and go on to the next stage of competition which involves an in-person interview with a team of expert judges. The South Carolina Teacher of the Year Gala will be held May 3 in Columbia.  The overall winner receives a total of $25,000 and gets to drive a new BMW for one year while advocating for the teaching profession across the state. View photos from Spearman's visit.

Advocates say arts education crucial for fixing schools

From The Greenville News: Story by Paul Hyde Photo by Bart Boatwright

An additional $1 million in funding for the South Carolina Arts Commission could help fix South Carolina’s broken public school system, arts advocates say. The Arts Commission is asking state lawmakers for the money to provide more grants for school programs in music, dance, theater and the visual arts, particularly those in the state’s poor, rural school districts. Arts advocates see the request as part of a legislative fix to a November state Supreme Court order to correct inequities that deny educational opportunity to students in the state’s poorer schools. “We think the arts can be part of the solution,” said Betty Plumb, executive director of the South Carolina Arts Alliance. Research has shown that arts education provides direct and indirect benefits for students, motivating them to work harder and stay in school, and teaching them about teamwork, leadership and creative problem-solving, among other values. The arts also enhance other academic subjects, said Bradley Wingate, the Greenville school district’s academic specialist for visual and performing arts. “A teacher may incorporate visual art into history,” Wingate said. “Research shows that students who learn materials through those different modes tend to retain the information longer and are more able to apply it when it’s taken out of context.” Currently, the Arts Commission spends $800,000 annually on arts-education grants. “We think that figure needs to be a lot larger,” said Ken May, executive director of the South Carolina Arts Commission. “We have high demand for the funding we already provide. We’re focused on trying to make sure all students have access to the arts in the school day.” Most arts education classes are funded through local school district revenues. Some poor school districts cannot afford arts education, however, so Arts Commission grants help those districts initiate programs. “Our state unfortunately has a high rate of poor kids in schools,” Plumb said. “The new money would help to level the playing field for children who live in high-poverty schools districts. It’s bridging the poverty gap. “It’s a modest amount when you think about all it can do,” Plumb said. New wave of support It’s uncertain whether the Legislature will embrace the Arts Commission’s $1 million request, but the state agency has an important ally in new Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman, a former music teacher. “I am fully committed to advancing opportunities for all students in South Carolina to participate in arts-related programs,” Spearman said via email. Spearman said she wants the state to be a national leader in arts education. “As a former music teacher for over 18 years, I have a deep appreciation for arts education,” Spearman said. “I want South Carolina to be seen as a national leader in STEAM education — science, technology, engineering, arts, and math — and we can get there by continuing our partnerships with the business community, technical colleges and institutions of higher education across the state.” Spearman served for serveral years in the past as the chair of the Arts in Basic Curriculum steering committee, which oversees one of the Arts Commission’s primary arts education programs. “It’s great to have such a strong advocate for arts education in the position of superintendent,” May said. “It’s really exciting.” Sen. Vincent Sheheen, a Camden Democrat, said prospects for the Arts Commission’s proposal look good this year. “I think this is a great opportunity to get more arts education funding into our schools,” said Sheheen, who is co-chair of the Senate Arts Caucus, a group of lawmakers who advocate for the arts. “The Arts Commission budget has been shrinking or static for many years. The time is right for an increase.” However, State Rep. Rita Allison, a Lyman Republican who is co-chair of the House Arts Caucus, was skeptical that more money could be found for arts education at a time when other priorities are looming large and Gov. Nikki Haley is calling for big cuts in state spending. “There’s not a lot of new money available,” Allison said. “The Arts Commission has been pretty level for quite some time. Whether the Arts Commission’s proposal has a chance with everything else on the table — roads and infrastructure, base student cost — that’s still a question mark.” Gov. Haley’s budget did not include the additional $1 million for arts education grants, although she supported current Arts Commission funding, urging that current money be used for arts education. Haley declined to comment further. “She did not endorse any new funding, so we’d have to cannibalize existing programs for arts education and that’s not desirable or popular with the rest of our constituency,” May said. In addition to arts education, the Arts Commission provides modest grants to arts organizations across the state, including more than a dozen in Greenville. Plumb said many state lawmakers, however, appear to be willing to provide more money for arts education. “We’ve got a lot of support from a lot of legislators,” Plumb said. “We really are saying that we want to raise the education level for the total child. There’s just no reason for another generation of students to not get the quality education they deserve.” Enhancing local programs The $1 million could be used especially to expand or help create arts programs in poor districts, May said. Arts Commission funding, however, would not be limited to high-poverty districts. Grants through one program — the Arts in the Basic Curriculum (or ABC) initiative — are usually modest: a maximum of $7,500, May said. “The money we provide to ABC sites is pretty unrestricted,” May said. “It can be used in any way that advances their curriculum.” Grants may be combined with local money to help a school afford a salary for a band or choral teacher, May said. Or a school might use a grant to introduce a new arts discipline, such as dance. Grants also might be used to bring an artist-in-resident to a school or fund a bus trip to a play, a museum or an orchestral concert. “Our money is often used as startup money for new elements of school’s curriculum,” May said. “The amount of bang we get out of the money we provide is just unbelievable.” For wealthier districts, such as Greenville County Schools, Arts Commission grants provide teachers with the freedom to offer creative initiatives. “It gives teachers the latitude to look at large-scale programs and activities that they probably wouldn’t be able to do with local funds,” said Wingate. “Local funds are earmarked for specific activities.” Monarch Elementary in Greenville County, for instance, was able to use Arts Commission funding to bring artists-in-residence to the school for music, dance and visual art, Wingate said. “They work with students and teachers, tailoring a program for whatever is best for the school,” Wingate said. Arts education inspires young people to stay in school, according to Shannon Kelly, director of advocacy at the National Association for Music Education. “Music has been correlated with higher attendance and graduation rates,” Kelly said. “It’s our position that arts education conveys many benefits to students and should be included as a core subject in all schools.” Arts education also encourages creative thinking, problem solving, leadership skills, personal confidence and collaborative skills, said Kelly, whose organization represents more than 100,000 current and former music educators. Kelly cited a recent University of Vermont study that found that music education in particular improves students’ cognitive ability, having a beneficial influence on auditory processing, inferential abilities and ability to focus. The Atlanta-based South Arts, a research organization, found that Arts Commission grants have helped to raise the quality of school arts programs statewide. “Schools that do have really robust arts programs are doing that with supplemental state funding,” May said. “The basic allotment that school districts provide schools for arts education is not sufficient to address all arts disciplines.” Image: Eastside senior Jill Edmonds works on a painting at the Greenville County Schools' Fine Arts Center

New S.C. education superintendent says the arts are a priority

From The Greenville News Story by Paul Hyde

Her predecessor tried to cut funding for arts education, but newly elected state Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman is offering a sharply contrasting message to arts supporters: "You've got my ear and my support." Spearman, a former state legislature who spent 18 years as a choral music teacher in public schools, is pledging to be a staunch advocate for arts education in South Carolina schools. "I hope my friends in the arts community realize that they've got a friend, someone who understands the importance of the arts as a state superintendent," Spearman said. Spearman said she's a strong supporter of two state arts-education programs that in the past have been targeted for elimination by some of her fellow Republicans, including outgoing state Superintendent Mick Zais and Gov. Nikki Haley. Spearman's election is being widely praised by advocates for arts education in the public schools. "I think it's great that the state's lead educator is someone who has an understanding that the arts are an integral part of all children's education, not just something extra they do between math and English," said Braxton Ballew, education director for the Greenville Symphony Orchestra. Ellen Westkaemper, who oversees education programs for the Greenville Art Museum, said Spearman's election is good news particularly for students in rural South Carolina schools who may have less exposure to the arts. "I was very happy when I saw her name on the ballot because I've known her for many years as a fantastic arts educator," Westkaemper said. "South Carolina has a lot of great things happening in the field of arts education and I think Molly is really going to be able to make sure things are equally distributed to all parts of the state, guaranteeing access in some of the rural and remote parts of the state." Spearman said she would support the state Department of Education's primary funding stream for the arts, the Arts Curricula Innovation Grants Program. Arts educators can use the grants in a variety of ways to enhance a school's arts programs, from professional development to designing an arts curriculum with consultants. "In 2013-14, 73 grants benefited 105,890 students throughout South Carolina," said Betty Plumb, executive director of the South Carolina Arts Alliance, an umbrella organization of arts groups in the state. Zais provoked the wrath of arts advocates by twice recommending that the $1.5 million program be eliminated. Attempts to reach Zais for comment were unsuccessful. Ensuring access Spearman said she's committed to making sure all South Carolina students have access to arts education, particularly in the state's poorer rural districts. "I've seen the disparities of school districts that exist side by side," Spearman said. In the 1980s as a choral teacher, Spearman moved from the well-funded Chapin Elementary School to the then-struggling Saluda High School. "I moved 18 miles and I went from having everything possible at my fingertips — a keyboard lab, a guitar lab, a beautiful auditorium — to working in an old portable with an upright piano," Spearman said. "I still understand those disparities and I'm going to be speaking up for those children across the state," she added. Spearman said a state arts education program, the Arts in Basic Curriculum project, dramatically transformed Saluda High School's arts curriculum for the better. "I wrote a grant and Saluda was one of the first sites in the Arts in Basic Curriculum project," she said. "Because of that support, we were able to bring in resources, buy instruments and bring in artists-in-residence. We totally changed the arts program in Saluda. I'm a huge supporter of the Arts in Basic Curriculum." The ABC program is funded by the South Carolina Arts Commission, an agency that Haley sought to eliminate three years in a row. Her vetoes, however, were overturned by the Legislature. This year, Haley chose not to veto funding for the agency. "In South Carolina, the arts are under constant scrutiny, and in recent years, our state arts commission has come very close to extinction," said Alan Ethridge, executive director of Greenville's Metropolitan Arts Council. "Ms. Spearman will be an excellent advocate for arts education and ultimately the arts throughout the state." Plumb said the ABC program funds initiatives to enhance arts programs already in existence in a school. "It might be paying for a dance or theater teacher for a year if a district's finances can't cover those things," Plumb said. "It might be for other programs or to implement a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) project." Lifelong commitment Spearman's involvement with the arts extends back to her childhood. She began playing piano and organ at her small country church when she was 12 years old. She and her family still attend the same church today, and she continues to serve as the music director and organist. Spearman majored in music education at Lander College (now University) and was elected student body president. She later earned a master of education supervision from George Washington University and an education specialist degree from the University of South Carolina. Her first teaching job was as a choral teacher at Gilbert High School in Lexington School District 1. She taught for a few years in Maryland before returning with her family to South Carolina. Spearman continued to teach choral music before becoming a principal. In 1993, Spearman was elected to the S.C. House of Representatives, serving four terms. In 1998, Spearman was appointed deputy superintendent of education for governmental relations at the state Department of Education. For the past nine years, Spearman has led the South Carolina Association of School Administrators. "I'm excited about having a former arts educator with such a range of experience as our superintendent of education," said Anne Tromsness, director of education for the Warehouse Theatre. Spearman said the arts enhance — rather than detract from — a school's other academic subjects. "I know the importance of the arts," Spearman said. "It's not just about teaching an appreciation of the beautiful things in this world. It's part of the basic curriculum. You can learn math and science and teach all of the curriculum through the arts. I understand and appreciate that and I'm going to be pushing that." The arts also play a crucial role in keeping students interested in school and from dropping out, Spearman said. "We're going to be pushing the idea that the way to increase the graduation rate is to engage them while they're in school, and the arts do that for most every student," Spearman said. An emphasis nationwide on standardized testing has negatively impacted the arts, but that may be changing, Spearman said. "South Carolina used to be a leader in arts education and we still have some very strong programs, but it's true that, because of high-stakes testing, a lot of the funding for arts has been reduced in all states," Spearman said. "But I see that pendulum swinging back. I think people have realized that was a mistake. If we're going to teach the whole child and individualize and engage students in their learning, there's no content area for that better than the arts."
Image: Arts in the Basic Curriculum presentation, South Florence High School (2013)