In school districts with tight budgets, art is often the first thing to go and the last to return. Educational leaders in Carpinteria, however, are listening to the Maria Shrivers, the Paul Allens and the John Quincy Adams and implementing a comprehensive elementary art program for the first time in 14 years.
Starting next fall, students in kindergarten through fifth-grade will receive 45 minutes of instruction each week from art specialists. Children will rotate through units on visual arts, dance, theater and vocal/music, receiving a full semester in each area every two years.
“Our children need the arts,” said Carpinteria Unified School District Superintendent Diana Rigby. “We had to figure out a way to make it happen.”
Rigby’s search for arts funding led to Carpinteria Education Foundation, the local nonprofit fundraising arm for CUSD. The message she presented was this: our elementary schools need art, but the district can’t afford the $58,000 contract for art instruction through Children’s Creative Project.
Brainstorming began. Phones rang. Feelers went out. Jessica Isaac, CEF board member, went home to husband Mike Isaac and lamented the lack of funds for such an equitable and impactful program. “Gosh,” she recalled telling Mike, “it would be so amazing if there was a company who could step up and sponsor the arts this year.”
Mike, general manager of his parents’ company, Mac Brown Excavating, pitched the idea to Debbie and Mac Brown, who agreed to donate $40,000 to bring back drama, dance, painting, sculpture, singing and music making to the schools that five of their grandkids attend.
Jessica said she hopes that the Browns’ decision will motivate other companies to give. Local business owners are asked to contribute to causes regularly, but Mac and Debbie recognized that after a busy year in the tractor business, they could commit to a one-time donation that would serve as a tax write-off and make a difference close to home. Jessica sees it this way: “You can give the government that money or you can give it to the kids in your community.”
The generous gift gets the new elementary art program two-thirds of the way to fully funded, and CEF will dedicate funds from this year’s Carp-a-cabana auction to make up the last third. This year’s event, themed Night of the Arts, will be held on Saturday, Sept. 8 from 5 to 9 p.m. at Carpinteria High School.
When Rigby came on as superintendent last summer, she was shocked to discover the lack of art instruction at CUSD. Despite the state’s expectation for weekly art taught by credentialed specialists, only Carpinteria High School offered art classes.
This coming year, at Rigby’s behest, the school board trimmed classroom aide positions to create an art teacher position at Carpinteria Middle School. Rigby also looked into hiring full-time art teachers at the elementary schools, but the $200,000-plus pricetag was far beyond reach.
Currently, elementary school teachers do their best to squeeze art into the schedule, Rigby noted, but not all are passionate or skilled in performing and fine arts. Through Children’s Creative Project, trained instructors who are talented and experienced in each artistic area will deliver the classroom lessons.
“I’m excited for the hands-on art,” said Jessica Isaac, “for kids to have experiences they wouldn’t be getting otherwise in class or at home.”
In the long run, CEF hopes to establish an arts fund to save the district from scrambling annually to keep the program in place.