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“Involvement in the arts is associated with gains in math, reading, cognitive ability, critical thinking, and verbal skill. Arts learning can also improve motivation, concentration, confidence, and teamwork.”
– Fran Smith, Edutopia

Collective impact helps maximize the benefits of arts education, and one group putting the “collect” in “collective” is SPARK!, bringing together superb teaching artists and arts curricula to amplify arts expression in classrooms. Now beginning its eighth year of programming, SPARK! Arts Ignite Learning, along with community partners, pursues a long-term vision and advocates for comprehensive and sustainable education. In partnership with the Kennedy Center, SPARK! Arts ensures equal access to the arts for all and has increased access through advocacy, training and strategic planning. The Arts Ecosystem currently in place in Missoula County Public Schools is a complex network of interconnected systems that educate students in and through the arts. The arts cycle through school children’s lives throughout the school year; described below, the four areas support K-8 students’ academic learning, develop creativity and self-expression, and build appreciation across a wide array of arts areas.

As with clean air, purified water and strong soil, a healthy ecosystem in the arts promotes interdependent relationships among students, teaching artists, arts and culture organizations, businesses, schools and communities through collective impact. Everyone agrees—students are best served when the arts are thriving in education.

Arts for Arts Sake: Direct study of the arts as stand-alone classes provides significant intrinsic value. Art and music (and occasionally drama) are embedded in school communities, and artistic literacy is considered crucial to student development. Students engage in arts-making and practice techniques across a variety of media and instruments. Classes address state arts content standards, and learning is scaffolded over the years.

Arts Integration: Teaching artists and classroom teachers co-create lessons for students that incorporate the arts in content areas, such as English/language arts, math, science and social studies. Learning objectives are met in both the content area and the art form, and students demonstrate their understanding through creating and sharing. Both the arts and content area standards are met. Based on Constructivist learning theory, arts integration activities draw upon students’ past knowledge, provide active hands-on learning and authentic problem solving and collaboration. Arts integration builds classroom environments where risk-taking is encouraged and cooperative learning is celebrated.

Arts Experiences: SPARK! Arts provides an annual, high-quality, professional arts experience to each K-8 grade level, including professional dances, symphonies, concerts, film festivals, theatre productions and museums. Students are exposed to and inspired by professional artists in a variety of art forms, specifically curated for their developmental age.

Arts Enhanced Curriculum: Teachers freely use the arts to reinforce and enhance their teaching. As an example, singing the alphabet helps students remember the letters and sequence of the alphabet. Though students may not be expected to learn about melody, song structure, or develop specific singing skills, the song enhances the learning. Although SPARK! does not provide training for this area, we recognize its value to enliven classroom learning.

SPARK! Arts is a collective impact initiative administered through Arts Missoula.
Read more about SPARK! Arts here.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Karen Kaufmann is a professor emeritus at the University of Montana. She serves on the SPARK! Arts Board. Karen is Co-Chair of the Programming Committee and Chair of the Professional Development Committee.

Originally published in “State of the Arts”, Montana Art Council’s quarterly publication.


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