What Does the PNC Foundation See in Pittsburgh CLO's Academy of Musical Theater?

While foundations have proved adept at filling music education funding gaps, they first need to be impressed by a nonprofit doing great things. Pittsburgh's CLO Academy of Musical Theater is one of them.

The PNC Foundation recently awarded a four-year, $800,000 grant to strengthen and expand the Pittsburgh CLO's Academy of Musical Theater. The grant will support the Children's School, a program of the Pittsburgh CLO Academy, which teaches children ages three to ten the fundamentals of musical theater. Their goal is simple: Get them while they're young and they'll be fans for life.

But even more important than creating the next-generation of musical theater aficionados, Pittsburgh CLO is acutely aware of the intellectual, social, and developmental benefits of music education. There's no shortage of evidence attesting to how music education helps children develop critical cognitive skills and improves social interaction, and we're guessing that this was a primary element of their pitch to PNC, who, as we've noted in the past, is highly committed to early childhood education. This approach is doubly important when one considers that, despite improving economic conditions, public schools continue to under-fund music education efforts.

In fact, we've noticed a heightened interest in organizations working to effectively communicate and measure the importance of music education in childhood development. We recently looked at how the Music Empowers Foundation cut a $75,000 check to the Berklee City Music Program of Boston's Berklee College of Music to "gauge the effectiveness of music education and how it affects youth academic achievement, music accomplishment, resiliency, leadership, and social skills." Nonprofits focused on music education need to pay attention as more research will translate into more compelling evidence to help secure funding.

Of course, it takes more than compelling scientific evidence for foundations to open their checkbooks, which, at long last, brings us to CLO's Children's School. The school encourages students as young as three to "use their imaginations to sing, dance and act in programs that teach fundamental performance skills and creative thinking while building character and confidence." As for the grant itself, it will help Pittsburgh CLO:

  • Enhance curriculum development at the Children's School
  • Attract and retain experienced professionals
  • Support the ongoing needs of young performing arts students from low- to moderate-income families
  • Explore new children's initiatives, including the expansion of its financial aid program
  • Boost outreach for its Creative Vision program, and
  • Fund the development of a pre-kindergarten musical theater program

Ambitious stuff. Perhaps if public schools were fully funded, such programs wouldn't be necessary. But in an era of sustained budget cuts to the arts coupled with an aggressive focus on standardized testing, many arts programs, in fact, remain under-funded, which is why CLO's work in the Pittsburgh area is so important.