Why Is The Bush Foundation So Keen On St. Paul's High School For Recording Arts?

It's always cool when an arts organization dreams up a cool project that integrates the arts into public life. But do you know what's even cooler? When a high school kid does it.

That's the idea behind High School for Recording Arts (HSRA), a St. Paul, MN-based organization that engages students "through music and the exploration and operation of the music business."

The organization just received a $100,000 grant from the Bush Foundation as part of its Community Creativity Cohort, a bold project that aims to build and support leadership, advance racial and economic equality, and share with community members new and creative ways to transform the arts into meaningful social change projects.

If the Creativity Cohort sounds familiar, it's because I alluded to them recently in a post about another recipient, Fargo's Theatre B. I think it's important to occasionally take a deeper look at recipient organizations because it not only provides a window into what innovative arts organizations are doing, but perhaps even more importantly, it offers a look into the kind of innovative arts organizations that the Bush Foundation wants to fund.

Because, after all, terms like "integrating the arts into every day life" and "community building" are relative things. Definitions vary based on the organizations doling out the cash.

This brings us back to the HSRA. HSRA's executive director, Tony Simmons, attributes the selection of the HSRA as a Community Cohort member to the successful and entrepreneurial student-originated public arts projects HSRA students conceptualized and implemented in recent years. It's the kids who are driving this thing.

"Our students served as incredible creative thought leaders, producers and artists," said Simmons. "Our students launched the 'Click 4 Life' campaign to push for a tougher seatbelt law in the state of Minnesota and played a major role in creating the '26 Seconds' national high school drop-out prevention campaign, featuring HSRA students and NBA All-Star, LeBron James."

The takeaway here? Think outside the "top-down" program development box. Diffuse the authority. Empower individuals and let them run with their ideas.

Additionally, HSRA makes a clear connection between creativity and driving social change. Simmons said a number of legislators and lobbyists have stated that the "Click 4 Life" campaign was a major contributor to the passage of the primary seat belt law passed in Minnesota more than five years ago.

Last, but not least, HSRA links students' creative endeavors lead to real-world outcomes—namely, job training. By educating kids in the world of the music business, HSRA prepares students for a positive post-secondary education and life.