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Kennedy Center picks Baltimore as ninth city in its Any Given Child education project

The Kennedy Center has chosen Baltimore as the ninth city to participate in Any Given Child, an education initiative aimed at improving access to the arts for all students K-8.

At a press announcement Monday morning at Highlandtown Elementary, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake spoke of how the initiative would help the school system "leverage every resource we can."

In addition to providing increased exposure to the arts for students, the initiative will provide "professional development opportunities for our teachers," the mayor said.

Any Given Child is a multiyear project provided at no cost by the Kennedy Center. The first phase involves an audit conducted by Kennedy Center staffers and consultants to determine current arts education activities and needs throughout the school system.

The audit looks at ...

how many arts organizations already are already working with the schools, such as the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s OrchKids program, now reaching about 600 students in four schools. Activities, resources, needs and possible overlap are examined during the audit.

"This phase usually takes us nine months to a year to pull all the information," said Darrell Ayers, the Kennedy Center's vice president for education. "This is not a drive-by consultation. We're there for the long haul."

In phase two, a committee of community leaders is formed and charged with making concrete recommendations to both the school district and local arts groups so that a long-range plan can be developed to improve the quantity and quality of arts education.

"People can get worried when they hear about the initiative," Ayers said, "but this is not the Kennedy Center coming in to tell people what to do. This is about helping a community figure out to make sure that students have arts experiences every year of their education."

Baltimore joins Any Given Child partnerships already in progress around the country: Sacramento, California; Springfield, Missouri; Portland, Oregon; Las Vegas, Nevada; Tulsa, Oklahoma; Sarasota, Florida; Austin, Texas; and Iowa City, Iowa.

"We chose Baltimore after getting a fabulous letter from Mayor Rawlings-Blake and supporting documents from Dr. Alonso," Ayers said. "It looked like a perfect opportunity to come in and work together."

Initiated by Kennedy Center president Michael Kaiser, Any Given Child was launched in 2009 in Sacramento, where one of the things the audit revealed was overlap.

"The symphony orchestra was focusing in on fifth graders, the ballet company was focusing in on fifth graders, and the theater company was focusing in on fifth graders," Ayers said. "After the audit, one of them switched to fourth grade, one to sixth."

Securing funds for increased arts programming in schools is one of the long-range goals of Any Given Child. Ayers said there has been some success with that in participating cities.

"We've seen the funding community get excited about the project," Ayers said. "In Austin, an anonymous donor heard about all the arts groups working together and gave $1 million to support children going to performances."

Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Andres Alonso said he was proud that Baltimore was now affiliated with Any Given Child.

"And we’re going to do amazing things as a result," Alonso said.

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