A Case Study for Securing Arts Education Funding in Economically Disadvantaged Rural Communities

Readers of IP's arts coverage know that we monitor the extent to which private foundations fill the arts education funding gaps in communities nationwide in the wake of the Great Recession.

One consideration that gets lost in the shuffle is the fact this isn't an all-or-nothing proposition. That is, to argue that private foundations are working to replenish lost funds misses an equally powerful counter-narrative. Many communities never had robust arts education funding to begin with.

This puts foundations in a tricky position. Do they support arts education nonprofits that keep the arts alive in areas that have been affected by cuts? Or do they support arts education nonprofits that keep the arts alive in areas where they have always been under-funded?

Foundations, of course, can walk and chew gum at the same time. They can fund both types of arts nonprofits simultaneously if they so desire. But for today's purposes, we'd like to focus on the latter type of foundationthe kind devoted to bringing arts education to economically disadvantaged and primarily rural communities.

It's a topic we've addressed before. We recently noted that Washington, PA-based WashArts, which serves West Virginia and Southwestern Pennsylvania, received a $200,000 grant from the Claude Worthington Bendum Foundation to coordinate a program designed to recruit teaching artists and organize a variety of activities at several rural districts around the area.

Now comes word that the Southern Kentucky Performing Arts Center (SKyPAC), based approximately 500 miles southwest of Washington, received $750,000 from the Laura Goad Turner Charitable Foundation to support arts education for students in the Scottsville area and provide general support to advance SKyPAC’s mission.

The similarities between the two gifts are striking.

  • Both gifts come from regionally-focused foundations.
  • Both foundations serve economically disadvantaged areas. (The median income for a household is $31,238 in Allen County, KY and $34,862 in Washington, PA.)
  • Funding to both nonprofits supports key arts education efforts that, we gather, can't be fully matched in public schools. Specifically, $500,000 of the grant to SKyPAC is allocated to support their Arts-in-Education programs, which include a diverse array of arts and education events, performances, classes, and in-school activities.
  • Both gifts fund programs that impact existing arts education in public schools. The WashArts program complements existing in-classroom programs and after-school activities, while as noted above, SKyPAC also provides in-school activities. 

In fact, the Laura Goad Turner Charitable Foundation goes a step further. In 2011, it allocated $1 million to "advance arts education in Allen County schools," while also offsetting capital expenditures associated with the opening of SKyPAC.

Four years later, the foundation likes what it sees. "My grandfather used to say ‘don't tell me, show me.’ SKyPAC has shown the Laura Goad Turner Charitable Foundation the impact that their work with students can have on their lives inside and outside of the classroom," foundation Vice Chairwoman Katherine Sikora said in a news release.

Taken in total, both gifts posit a handy template for arts education nonprofits operating in primarily rural areas. They complement existing in-school activities, appeal to regionally-focused funders, andmost obviouslycreate killer programs that helps to create an ongoing relationship with said foundations.