Stanislaus County Alliance for Arts Education Kick-off breakfast at the Gallo Center for the Arts, Modesto March 3, 2011

The large Foster Family Theatre stage of the Gallo Center for the Arts in Modesto was the dramatic background for the kick-off of a new local alliance in support of arts education in the schools, part of the effort by the California Alliance for Arts Education to establish local advocacy networks throughout the state.  Sixty people representing the education community, arts and cultural organizations, business, government and parents attended the breakfast meeting on March 3.  Stanislaus Alliance coordinator Patty Larrick worked closely with county office VAPA coordinator Jill Polhumus to plan and present the event.  Local hosts included Stanislaus County Office of Education Superintendent, Tom Changnon, Gallo Center CEO, Lynn Dickerson and Stanislaus Arts Council Executive Director, Grace Lieberman. 

The early morning participants were greeted by the lively and bright music of the YES! Company Ambassadors, an all-county singing group, part of an arts outreach program of the County Office of Education.  Their bright voices were a perfect beginning to the day. Each of the hosts then spoke about aspects of their programs that contribute to access and equity for a wide variety of county students.  Jill Polhemus along with Jeri Hamera, Director of Curriculum and Instruction for the Newman/Crows Landing USD (in photo below), spoke about the very uneven state of arts education in the county and how one very demographically typical school district has developed and expanded arts education despite competing priorities.  Joe Landon, Alliance Policy Director, provided an overview and historical context for the work of the alliance and the exciting work of other local networks, after which table groups discussed the ways in which local community members such as themselves could, through strong and active advocacy, assist school districts in attaining their goals for arts education.  The discussions were lively and full of great ideas. 

From this event, a core leadership group will emerge to develop a local action plan that addresses areas such as communication, media and partnerships.  The network will determine what advocacy actions will be the most strategic and persuasive within this county and within the difficult fiscal situation schools are currently facing.  The work is to proceed over the next three years under the sponsorship of the Alliance.  A few key people who were unable to attend this event will join the group in future follow-up and planning meetings.

For Stanislaus County, this new Alliance for Arts Education is the logical next step after the completion, last year, of the County Office of Educations’ Arts Education Master Plan.  Many of the same people who were part of the leadership team that developed that plan will now be involved in the new Alliance.

Patty Larrick, who facilitated the development of that plan, will remain the local advocacy coordinator.  She will continue to work closely with the COE, and all the constituencies represented by the participants at the Gallo Center.  We all have high expectations for this newest local alliance in an area that is discovering the power of the arts to improve the quality of life in the area.