Danville Express

Newsfront - December 21, 2007

Artists help fund art in schools through grants

ADAS gives $7,400 to district programs - 10 percent of its members' earnings

by Natalie O'Neill

If athletics are the school district's strong successful son, the arts are a neglected stepchild, members of the Alamo Danville Artists' Society say.

So to give some tender loving care to what some call an underfed department, the group of artists wrote checks for $7,400 in grant money to 12 district schools last week.

"A lot of art teachers have to dip into their own pocket for supplies ... Funding for art programs has been continuously cut back," said Tracy Bauer, spokeswoman for ADAS.

The money, which was distributed by the Community Arts Education Program (CAEP), was taken from 10 percent of what artists earned through sales this year. It went to paying for supplies like canvases, brushes and moldable display panels at schools.

"The artists - who are pressed for money - are the ones donating," Bauer explained.

More emphasis should be put on arts in the district, she said, because creativity and problem-solving in spatial relationships are used in nearly every career.

"There is a lot of academic pressure to achieve in predictable textbook ways ... Why is art less important than these other areas?" she said.

Katharine O'Hara, teen columnist for the Danville Weekly, commented on the issue in her Oct. 19 column, "Can crushed creativity be revived?" She explained the main objective in college application letters is to be clever, creative and unique, and that students had almost no experience doing that in Danville and Alamo schools.

"What is now supposed to get us into college - creativity - has been carefully removed from most aspects of school curricula year upon year," she wrote.

The school district, which is the fourth least funded unified school district in the state, has been diligent about trying to get its hands on state funds since 2002, the year the Measure A bond passed.

Measure A funds must be spent on facilities, but state funds and local donations can be used specifically for arts education. In the 2006-07 school year the district received about $1,456,000 - or $56 per student - in state funds for art, music and physical education.

Students and parents often hold car washes, bake sales and other fundraisers but they are more often held to benefit athletics than arts.

In the district, $15 million in budget cuts were made during about a three-year period starting in 2000. A slump in the California economy in 2003 then threatened more cuts to administration, music programs and health education.

"It's a very painful process," district spokesman Terry Koehne said about the budget cuts. "We try to stay as far away from the classroom as we can."

Grant applications for CAEP funds were sent to every school in the district, and schools were asked what supplies they needed. Every school that applied received funds, including Alamo Elementary, Vista Grande Elementary, Charlotte Wood Middle School, Rancho Romero Elementary and Monte Vista High School.

"It's whoever responds," said Pauline Cortez, chairwoman of the program.

In the San Ramon Valley, emphasis is put on kids to test well and make top scores on tests, some students say.

"There is a lot of parental pressure," Sam Kikes, a student at San Ramon Valley High, said before graduating in June.

Art can help with stress and expression, ADAS members say.

"It's therapy and release for us in a busy society," Bauer said.

In the past six years, ADAS has raised about $7,000 annually to fund art in schools. And the demand for arts education funds is growing every year, ADAS members explained.

"We are subject to the California economy. When it's bad we suffer. And the next couple years don't seem to be getting any brighter," Koehne said.


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