The Napa Valley Unified School district arts programs received an infusion of support when Festival del Sole announced its 2015 grants. They included $120,000 to fulfill a wish list from visual and performing arts teachers, as well as $50,000 grant to begin creating a master plan for arts education.

“I’m ecstatic to accept this,” Barbara Nemko, Napa Country Superintendent of Schools said of the $120,000 grant to which will support 30 programs in 16 schools from American Canyon to Calistoga. “When first I told the teachers to make a wish list, they didn’t even know what to ask for. No one had ever asked them what they needed before.”

“It’s true,” added Sonia Tolbert, the general manager for Festival de Sole. “We had to have a gathering for the teachers to prod them. They were like, ‘You mean I can ask for anything?’”

“We said we can’t make any guarantees,” Tolbert said. “But we told them the application is a one-sheet piece of paper. They were like, ‘Wow.’”

When they got into it, Nemko added, “The needs are enormous.”

Many of the district’s highly praised arts programs, like the Napa and Vintage high school choral and instrumental classes, rely on parent and teacher fundraising to pay for costs beyond the classroom and the teacher salary; everything from sheet music to travel costs for competition.

The Festival del Sole money comes from a gala held as part of the 10-day musical event that takes place in Napa Valley each July. This year, singer-actor Kevin Spacey sang at the gala. The auction included a fund-a-need lot to grant the teachers’ wishes. The arts grants for education were announced Thursday.

Festival grants also included $15,000 for the Napa Valley Youth Symphony.

“We hope we’ll come back with even fatter checks next year,” said Darioush Kahledi, president of the board of the 10-year-old Festival del Sole.

A master plan for the arts

The $50,000 grant was given to the Arts Council of Napa Valley to expedite the creation of a master plan for arts education in Napa County, Tolbert said.

This public-private collaboration has been a key project of the Arts Council, said director Olivia Everett. When the state Office of Education asked each county to create such a plan, Arts Council Napa County spearheaded the formation of a coalition of public and private partners to create the Arts Council Napa Valley Education Alliance to accomplish that, Everett said.

After spending two years researching and documenting the needs throughout the county, the Alliance will be able to move ahead with the help from the Festival grant.

“This is a dream come true,” Everett said. “The Festival people came to us and said, ‘How can we help?’ They really wanted to help to make a difference.”

Having a master plan creates a roadmap for a comprehensive, sequential curriculum for arts education, kindergarten-12th grade, said Patrick Sweeney, superintendent of the Napa Valley Unified School District.

Tolbert said the initial focus is on the school district because it affects 90 percent of the students in Napa County. “We wanted to go for for the best and greatest need and impact.”

As a result of the Festival del Sole grant, Tolbert added, “The school district has committed to hiring a consultant that will create the plan. What this is going to mean to students is that every student in Napa Valley Unified School District will have equal access to arts education. This will increase access and equality — that’s the most important thing — access will be available to every single student in every grade.”

“I want to build public awareness (that) being involved in the arts will make students more successful in every other aspect of their lives,” Tolbert said.

“We can’t underestimate the importance of the arts,” Nemko said. “It’s what keeps some kids coming to school — and it’s fun.”