My public school arts-in-education experiences were, I must admit, hit and miss.

I sang (off-tune) in the middle school chorus, tried out for plays (got cast in non-speaking roles) and, out of all the instruments available to play in the marching band, I chose piano lessons (we had an upright at home).

None of the above “extras” were taught by trained teaching artists brought into classrooms and, if memory serves, “arts education” was certainly not part of any core curriculum or conversation.

Thankfully over time, the definition and implementation of arts education have evolved dramatically (pun intended)! And now, Napa County public school kids will be the beneficiaries.

Nearly four years in the making, a first five-year master plan for arts education — passed unanimously last week by the Napa Valley Unified School District (NVUSD) Board of Education — will give unprecedented opportunity, access and equity to all students in pre-K through high school, thanks to the leadership of Arts Council Napa Valley, NVUSD and Festival Napa Valley.

Legally speaking, arts education is defined as: “Learning, instruction and programming based upon the visual and tangible arts, including performing arts like dance, music, theater; visual arts like drawing, painting and sculpture; and design works in jewelry, pottery, weaving and fabrics. The curriculum can also include commercial graphics and home furnishings. Latest trends include photography, video, film, design and computer.”

Napa County’s enhanced arts education programs will focus on “quality, culturally relevant music, visual arts, dance, theater and media courses,” according to NVUSD Superintendent Patrick Sweeney. “These disciplines provide our youth with skills and experience that support collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity.”

Plus, the plan presents a comprehensive framework for the development of a sequential, standards-based arts education curriculum utilizing qualified instructors.

Consortium member Festival Napa Valley (formerly Festival del Sole) not only granted $50,000 for the commissioning of the master plan, but has been re-granting dollars for arts projects since 2012 through an internal organizational program called “Arts for All.”

Donated through a “Fund a Need” appeal at the festival’s annual Meadowood gala, these “wish list” grants ($275,000 for grantees in 2015 alone), have supported projects such as: Lincoln Theater’s Artists in Residence Program; scholarships for students in the Napa Valley Youth Symphony; the purchase of a kiln for ceramic classes at Redwood Middle School; acquisition of traditional charro suits for girls participating in ballet folklorico at the Napa Valley Language Academy; and for the spring premiere of an original, one-act musical, “Voices in the Dark,” created by drama class students at Napa High School.

“We believe that art in all its forms has the power to transform lives,” shared Sonia Tolbert, general manager of Festival Napa Valley. “Since its inception, the festival has been committed to making the arts accessible to everyone in the community, and supporting arts education is central to this commitment. The festival is honored to have played a key role in this initiative that ensures equitable access to arts education so that all students can have the opportunity to create, explore and thrive.”

Sweeney recently appointed Chuck Neidhoefer as visual and performing arts coordinator to lead the charge on sustaining and growing arts education opportunities for all students. Included in his duties will be oversight of a team of arts educators who will help design the curriculum during the 2016-17 school year.

“Everyone’s fingerprints are on this plan,” Tolbert stated. “It’s a community initiative, a public-private partnership with so much interest from artists wanting to help and provide a meaningful way to work with the schools and their students.”

“What I’ve learned going through this process is more about what arts education means than what it is: giving students an opportunity to explore and create and utilize all parts of their brains so they can be the most successful students ever.”

For information on the Arts Education Master Plan, visit Arts Council Napa Valley, ArtsCouncilNapaValley.org.

Evy Warshawski is a performing arts presenter and partner in E & M Presents.

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