The Curriculum Made Me Do It: Why Did This Princeton Theater Net a $300,000 Grant?

Here's a suggestion. Next time you're in a bind, simply use the "Common Core standards" excuse.

Miss a deadline at work? Forget to pick up milk at the grocery store? Neglect to feed the cat? Simply say, "Sorry, but I was responding to an ever-growing need to fulfill essential Common Core standards."

Like most jokes—and yes, we consider that one, semantically speaking, to be a joke—this excuse has a profound kernel of truth to it. Funders are increasingly receptive to arts organizations that frame their pitches through the lens of mandated standards.

One case in point has to do with recent news that Princeton's McCarter Theater Center netted a $300,000 grant from the James E. and Diane W. Burke Foundation. The three-year grant will launch a new phase of growth for McCarter’s education and engagement programs to reach more people in the community. Specifically, the cash will allow McCarter to substantially increase the number of fully subsidized tickets to student matinees and provide bus funding to schools for whom transportation cost is the primary barrier to arts access. While McCarter has long been committed to offering financial aid for after-school theatre classes and summer theatre camps, the Burke Foundation gift also significantly increases the pool of available scholarship funds for qualifying families.

But expanding the center's engagement model is only part of the equation.

In yet another example of the buried-lede syndrome, we noticed this in the fourth paragraph of the Planet Princeton news release: "Responding to an ever-growing need for arts organizations to fulfill essential core curriculum standards, funding will be allocated to strengthen McCarter’s existing in-school programs across the region including those at Trenton Central High School, New Brunswick Regional Schools, Middlesex County Vocational Technical High School, Princeton Public Schools, and Trenton’s Grace Dunn Middle School, among others."

So if we're reading this properly, states like New Jersey and others seem to be saying to schools and teachers: Here are a bunch of new standards. You have to teach to them. Your kids have to learn them. And if they do poorly on tests, we'll hold you accountable. Oh, and by the way, there isn't much funding to help you in this effort. Who knows? Maybe a private foundation will step in? We sure hope so. We're waiting for the phone to ring.

Our college ethics teacher would tell us this isn't a fair proposition. But hey, the world isn't fair.

Nonetheless, this gift is yet another example of what we'd like to call Common Core philanthropy. Additional examples here and here.

We're stuck with it, so arts organizations need to calibrate their fundraising pitches accordingly.