Previewing the VSA Intersections: Regional Arts and Special Education Conference in New Orleans — An Interview with Elise Gallinot Goldman and J. Célèste Kee

In this article, two New Orleans area arts education leaders share their knowledge and experience building partnerships to create arts-rich schools and connect students to the local culture and arts community.

J. Célèste Kee is the Director of the New Orleans Arts Education Alliance (NOAEA), and Elise Gallinot Goldman is the Executive Director of KID smART. Dr. Kee and Ms. Gallinot Goldman will join a diverse panel of arts education professionals at the VSA Intersections: Regional Arts and Special Education Conference taking place on Saturday, March 30, 2019, in New Orleans.

The panel, Arts Organizations Reaching All Learners, will discuss equity for students with disabilities and the impacts of economic and racial inequity in arts education.  This discussion of the challenges and successes the panelists have encountered promoting equitable arts education in New Orleans will be valuable for anyone who works to build partnerships in their professional lives, including general and special educators, arts specialists, teaching artists, principals, nonprofit administrators, education program managers, university professors, policy makers, researchers, and school administrators.

New Orleans offers a uniquely rich artistic and cultural context for arts education programs.  It also offers unique challenges in creating equitable educational opportunities.

The New Orleans school district is decentralized; ninety-four percent of the schools in New Orleans are charter schools.  According to Dr. Kee of NOAEA, because funding, standards and priorities are not centralized, there are significant equity barriers to arts access.  Well-resourced schools have greater access to the arts than schools with fewer resources.  Multiple arts organizations, then, are serving the same well-resourced schools, unintentionally reinforcing existing inequities by leaving the rest of the schools unserved.

Another challenge for students in New Orleans is educational disruptions.  Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the number of students with post-traumatic stress disorder in New Orleans is four times the national average, according to Dr. Kee.

Students with disabilities may have also experienced educational gaps.  Despite significant reforms in recent years, in 2010 a group of students with disabilities filed a federal lawsuit against New Orleans claiming they were being denied an education due to their disabilities.

Organizations like NOAEA and KID smART are partnering with schools and cultural institutions to create sustainable arts education in New Orleans.  NOAEA is forging connections between arts organizations and schools, offering professional development, emphasizing trauma informed arts education practices and advocating for the arts at the state and local level.  KID smART began as a Saturday out-of-school time program 20 years ago and is now fully embedded in the schools providing long-term arts integrated instruction in all disciplines to grades K-8.  KID smART also offers valuable professional development opportunities for teachers and teaching artists.

Disability is central to the mission and focus of both organizations.

“Disability compounds existing inequalities,” Dr. Kee said.  “We can’t really address educational equity without addressing disability and understanding that disability is intersectional with economic and racial inequities.”

Dr. Kee asserts that two of the best ways to promote excellent partnerships is by educating schools about arts resources, like museums and theaters, as well as educating arts organizations about schools.  NOAEA serves as a place to connect and convene so resources can be allocated equitably to all schools.

Arts organizations need to be educated about the multiple barriers schools face, according to Dr. Kee.  For many schools, access to the arts is not only about tickets or admissions, but about transportation, schedules and other concerns.  Educating the arts sector about schools, and vice versa, helps to more effectively address and overcome those barriers.

Ms. Gallinot Goldman emphasizes, also, that a hallmark of successful partnerships is investment by both organizations.  For example, KID smART has a long-term partnership with Martin Berhman Charter School in which both sides are “interested in broadening the view of what student success looks like beyond a numerical score.”

Through KID smART’s programming, the charter school has seen its students become more self-directed, engaged and have a greater level of self-advocacy as a result of making creative choices in the arts.  Martin Berhman Charter School has expanded its investment with additional arts opportunities for students, over and above those offered by KID smART, in hopes of furthering the dramatically positive impacts for its students.

KID smART was founded by two New Orleans artists, so for Ms. Gallinot Goldman, the connection to New Orleans arts and culture is “embedded into the DNA of our organization.”  Dr. Kee, with NOAEA, also emphasizes the importance of connecting to local New Orleans’ culture.

“Our city has such a unique and famous culture and arts including Mardi Gras, jazz, the Mardi Gras Indians and indigenous art forms,” Dr. Kee said. “Access to historical arts forms – it’s [the student’s] birthright. … (New Orleans students) shouldn’t be learning the Western canon without learning about what’s in their own backyard.”

In addition to emphasizing New Orleans culture and arts, KID smART has invested in programs that build up arts education knowledge and resources in the community.  Post-Katrina, KID smART had to seek outside New Orleans for trainers who could provide expert knowledge on arts integrated education.  Now, after investing in resources to train trainers, the majority of professional development is sourced from the local area.

Participants attending the VSA Intersections: Regional Arts and Special Education Conference in New Orleans will have the opportunity to talk with Dr. Kee and Ms. Gallinot Goldman, as well as Jenny James, Director of Education and Programs at Young Audiences of Louisiana and Tracy Kennan, Curator of Education at the New Orleans Museum of Art about how arts organizations and schools can work together to create rich, equitable arts education that reaches diverse learners.

The facilitated panel discussion will also focus on transferable strategies; how their successes can be applied to other communities throughout the United States.  Both sides of the partnership – educators and artists – can gain valuable, actionable information about how to craft long-term arts education programs to effectively serve all students.

We hope you can join us March 29th and 30th at VSA Intersections: Regional Arts and Special Education Conference in New Orleans. Register here.



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