How is Mellon Working To Integrate Arts Education With Common Core Standards?

"If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."

The "'em" to be vanquished, in this case, is Common Core, and the joiner is the Clinton, NY-based Wellin Museum. The teaching museum, officially called the Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art, received a two-year, $100,000 grant to study the museum's education programs for public schools.

Just another ho-hum grant, right? Ah, but there's a twist. 

The study will "help the Wellin Museum work more effectively with public school educators to supplement school curricula within the structure of the Common Core requirements. Study results will be used to create new programming for the museum."

That's right. It isn't enough anymore to simply complement public school teaching curricula. Now the museum will do so within the structure of Common Core. 

The museum's mission reminds me of another grant I reported on a few months back. Atlanta's Woodruff Arts Center netted a $6.6 million grant from from the Lettie Pate Evans Foundation to support Art From the Start, a new three-year program designed to "better connect families and students with the arts center's art and arts education offerings."

When remarking on the grant, the center's vice president of advancement Janine Musholt noted, "We know that exposure to the arts benefits students in a variety of ways, from improved test scores to a better understanding of the world around them" (emphasis added).

The Woodruff Arts Center pitched its program as tool to improve (unspecified) standardized test scores, and now the Wellin Museum has gone a step further, using Mellon money to supplement school curricula within the structure of specific (and highly controversial) requirements.

It's a controversy that will only intensify over time. As my colleague L.S. Hall notes in this piece, many powerful and deep-pocketed individuals are lining up against Common Core, citing excessive government overreach and further meddling in local schools. Not suprisingly, the standard is particularly offensive to conservative politicians. In fact, many political analysts suggest that Jeb Bush's support for the Common Core will be his biggest (though not insurmountable) obstacle towards securing the Republican presidential nomination.

Two additional things to add here.

First, teachers, parents, and administrators seem increasingly resigned to the disruptive juggernaut that is Common Core. They're stuck with it. And they need help. So what's a savvy nonprofit arts organization to do? Of course it sweetens its pitch by folding new educational offerings in the Common Core framework. (Who knows? Perhaps we'll soon set up our own vertical on IP devoted exclusive to Common Core Arts Philanthropy.)

Secondly, the gift underscores the next logical step in which foundations step in to fund the much-publicized "arts gap." Don't just take my word for it. "Locally, arts programs are frequently the first to be cut, leaving huge holes in the educational experience for students,” said Megan C. Austin, manager of educational programming and outreach at the museum. The Wellin seeks to address this gap by becoming a primary source for Common Core-centric arts programming for K-12 students in the Mohawk Valley. Rather than write a check without strings, don't be surprised if other foundations follow Mellon's lead by referencing Common Core.

Further, neither of these two issues—resignation toward the Common Core and cuts to arts funding—are relegated to the Mohwak Valley of New York State. (Obviously.) Acutely aware of this reality, the results of the museum's Mellon-funded assessment of the pilot programs will be "widely disseminated so that peer institutions, locally and across the country, may benefit from the Wellin’s work."