In 2012-2013, the foundation was laid for the Rural Arts® Collaborative Arts (RAC) Arts Education Project. As a former educator with an extensive background in non-profit working with after-school arts programs that were designed to extend the art education experience for students, it was clear to me that there was a need to focus on developing a project that would work alongside existing arts curriculum in the classroom. Many school districts in rural Southwestern PA were experiencing budget cuts and the first programs to go were the art classes. In many schools, art class went from every day to once a week. In several districts, art was offered only one semester during the academic year.
But as any educator knows, the arts enhance learning abilities in math, science, and other disciplines, and are an excellent foundation for fostering and developing the learning process: The “hands-on” experience fosters the 10 primary skills that are essential for learning across the board: Creativity, Confidence, Problem Solving, Perseverance, Focus, Non-verbal Communication, Receiving Constructive Feedback, Collaboration, Dedication and Accountability Washington Post, Strauss 2013.
After a year of conversations and planning with the Fayette County Cultural Trust (FCCT) and funding from the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, the RURAL ARTS® COLLABORATIVE (RAC) Arts Education Project was formed. The premise behind the RAC project approach was to recruit Teaching Artists to work in school districts in Southwestern PA counties, with the intent to infuse a diverse arts education approach into existing curriculum, enhance social and cognitive learning for students, and contribute to sustained partnerships amongst educators, artists and students in rural schools, particularly in those schools who were experiencing cut-backs or entire elimination of their arts programs.
The “Teaching Artist” concept is not new and has been very successful as an enhancement to existing arts curriculum for many years. This term applies to professional artists in all artistic fields. Teaching Artists have worked in schools and in communities for many decades. Teaching Artistry as a field really began in the 1980s. In response to the arts education cutbacks in schools in the Reagan Administration, arts organizations began to provide services directly to schools, and artists became key deliverers of those services.