“Don’t water down your arts plan just because the economy is bad.”

The Challenge: Five years into your district arts plan there’s still no money. How do you maintain momentum when budget woes continue? 
The Strategy: “Don’t water down your arts plan just because the economy is bad.”
The Story: When stakeholders in Saddleback sat down to renew their district’s arts plan (they expire every five years), there were still items from the original plan that hadn’t been accomplished. There were facilities that hadn’t been built and equipment that was still needed. There were also a lot of new faces around the table. Would this new group be able to keep momentum and agree on a plan? 
According to Jim Thomas, Visual and Performing Arts Coordinator for the Orange County Department of education, these potential obstacles turned out to have unexpected benefits. 

“Rather than frustrating the group, I think the unfinished elements of the plan gave people a sense of urgency about renewing the plan and even adding to it," said Thomas, “They understood that it wasn’t a lack of commitment, but a consequence of the state’s budget crisis.” 
The planning group was comprised of thirty community members with a wide range of perspectives and different levels of knowledge about the education code and district policies. There were parents, administrators, principals, teachers, district representatives, PTA leaders and high school students. 
“The students come in with a completely different perspective. They ask insightful, big picture questions. They’re not bogged down in the nuts and bolts,” says Julie Schwarz, Local Organizer for the Saddleback Alliance for Arts Education, “They breathed new life into the process and reminded the group of why this plan is so important.” 
In the end, the group as able to agree on a new plan in just a few meetings and their commitment was quickly rewarded. The Orange County Arts Education Collaborative Fund presented grants to Saddleback and seven other OC districts with arts plans in place. Schwarz’s advice? 
“Don’t water down your arts plan just because the economy is bad.”
Congratulations, Saddleback advocates!