It Takes a Village in Arts Education (Part 2)

Posted by Kristen Engebretsen, Aug 29, 2012 4 comments

Kristen Engebretsen

In my previous post, I described an arts education trend called “coordinated delivery,” in which I discuss the roles of some of the key stakeholders in arts education. Over the past year, Americans for the Arts has been refining our thinking about the theme, “It takes a village to educate a child.”

While the term “coordinated delivery” includes all of the major players that make arts education happen in a single community, it falls a bit short in defining all of the stakeholders, including those at the state and national levels, such as funders or legislators.

The field of arts education is a complex network of partners, players, and policymakers—each with a unique role. After the work we did last year in investigating coordinated delivery, Americans for the Arts wanted to create something that demonstrated how all of these players interact, and to help arts education practitioners understand their relationship with other stakeholders in arts education.

So...we created The Arts Education Field Guide.

The Field Guide is a 48-page reference guide that captures information in a one-page format for each arts education stakeholder, from national down to local partners. Each page defines a constituency and highlights its relationship to arts education in several key areas: support, barriers, successes, collaborations, funding, and national connections. The Field Guide is divided into sections based on federal/state/local tiers, and each page provides information that will help readers understand a stakeholder’s motivations and connections in arts education.

The Field Guide utilizes the concepts from biology of a network or an ecosystem. When bringing this concept to life, we wanted a way to graphically illustrate all of the key players in the field of arts education. I used Google Images to find a representation of the word “network” and then worked with a designer to come up with the motif for our ideas. We also utilized the term “field guide” (the kind that a botanist would use when trying to identify a plant or flower), as a play on words of “the field of arts education” to come up with the title.

Let’s take a quick look at the diagrams in The Field Guide:

Tiers of Influence

The structure of our education system is often seen as a linear hierarchy, but each partner below has a different role and a different amount of influence. Your strongest ally is not always just one step above, below, or beside you. How can we build more relationships within and between tiers in order to help arts education thrive within this ecosystem?

Spheres of Influence

This representation of the arts education field flips the power structure by putting students at the center, and it illuminates possible relationships between stakeholders. Who is already in your network? What new connections do you see? Who can become your new partner or ally?

As you can see from the diagrams, the design of The Field Guide invokes the concept of a network through the connecting lines in the background, and the tiers and spheres that represent an ecosystem.

So, while my last post focused on the stakeholders closest to the students (teachers, parents, etc.), this ecosystem analogy pushes the thinking to include the broadest set of stakeholders that can affect arts education.

These last two posts have contained a lot of buzz words—‘coordinated delivery’, ‘ecosystem’, and ‘shared delivery.’ All of these terms describe how people are making arts education happen in their community. Arts education might look different in every community, but one phrase always rings true: “It takes a village…”

(Editor's Note: You can download the high resolution [PDF, 2MB] and low resolution [PDF, 1MB] versions of The Field Guide or order a hard copy [48 pages, printed booklet] ($10 for members; $13 for nonmembers) from our Americans for the Arts Bookstore!)

4 responses for It Takes a Village in Arts Education (Part 2)


September 05, 2012 at 4:56 pm

Dear Mark and Kristen...I am studying the Field Guide and particularly the spheres of influence...many thoughts occur, viz:
From the beginning of "time" the arts have always been underwritten and, if you will, dependent on the kindness of strangers or people of considerable wealth. I am starting to write my arts in/as education memoir, and the central question driving my entries will be: Why after more than six decades of an undulating and unsteady presence of the arts in our schools are we pretty much back where we started, wondering if we were a "trend" (let alone a field)and worrying when, where, how and how long it would take to could sustain ourselves. I have many thoughts about some of the answers, and I am planning to study them "historically" and experientialry (sp?). I am not sure that "spheres" of influence and the approach you are using will help clarify our persistent obstacles and troubles, but am eager to see what emerges.
Any thoughts?

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September 05, 2012 at 5:01 pm

Mark...take a look at my response, and would love to hear from

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Kristen Engebretsen says
August 29, 2012 at 5:10 pm

Amen, Mark. Thanks for weighing in. Perhaps in a Field Guide version 2.0 we could provide concrete action items for each of these stakeholders, given their time constraints.

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August 29, 2012 at 4:13 pm

Thanks for helping us think about the bigger picture and overlapping spheres of influence. At the level of a local school or district, I find the most important ingredient is time. We rarely budget enough time to allow stakeholders -- teachers, arts specialists, teaching artists, principals - the opportunity to share their respective ideas, needs and resources. Likes "ships passing in the night" too many activities in arts education take place in isolation, without leveraging the possibilities of greater collaboration and alignment.

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