Miami Herald Op-Ed: Bringing fine arts to youth

Posted by Schwartz Media Strategies, a Miami, Fla. public relations (PR) firm
In today’s Miami Herald, Adrienne Arsht Center President and CEO M. John Richard makes the case for increased private sector funding for arts education within the context of Rock Odyssey, a pilot partnership between the Arsht Center and Miami-Dade Public Schools that will bring every 5th grader in the County – 26,000 kids in all – to the Center for a rock musical production of Homer’s Odyssey starting next week.
Bringing fine arts to youth
By M. John Richard

Since its inception, we have aspired to shape the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County into an institution that is at once world-class and community-based. With arts education a vital component of that mission, we envisioned a day when the center would be surrounded by a sea of yellow school buses.

RO-pic-300x217Now that day is upon us with the opening of Rock Odyssey, a first-of-its-kind partnership between the Adrienne Arsht Center and Miami-Dade Public Schools that will bring every fifth-grader in the county — 26,000 children in all — to the center for a musical production of Homer’s Odyssey.

The program is free of charge for students and their schools, thanks to Convention Development Tax proceeds that have been allocated to the center in recognition of its role as an engine for economic growth in downtown Miami.

Since construction of the Adrienne Arsht Center began, more than $1 billion of public and private investment has been directed to our neighborhood. The center has emerged as a potent factor for the people who are buying condos, booking hotel rooms and patronizing restaurants in downtown Miami.

In directing these public funds to Rock Odyssey, we are solidifying the center’s mission-driven focus on arts education at a time when such programs can make a dramatic impact.

Beyond providing students with transformational experiences at critical points in their lives, Rock Odyssey and subsequent education programs we launch through our “Learning through the Arts” initiative will complement students’ in-classroom educations.

A study by the National Endowment for the Arts and the U.S. Department of Education found that “students exposed to drama showed impressive gains in standardized test scores,” and more specifically that “exposure to and involvement in the arts are positively correlated with higher SAT verbal and math scores.”

The Adrienne Arsht Center’s community impact extends far beyond “Learning through the Arts.” Popular programs such as our Free Gospel Sundays series and Family Fest events open the center’s doors to tens of thousands of families and individuals annually, and our first-ever Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Summer Camp last year was a success.

Our current levels of public and private funding are enough to sustain these community outreach and arts education programs this year and next year.

But we can — and must — do more as an institution and as a community.

Take “Learning through the Arts,” for example. Support from Miami-Dade County and the City of Miami’s Omni Community Redevelopment Agency has afforded us an opportunity to make an enduring impact in the lives of 26,000 students with Rock Odyssey. The next step in maximizing the center’s community influence will be expanding the initiative to reach more than 75,000 students each year.

Cementing Miami’s standing as a national leader in arts education through the expansion of programs like Rock Odyssey will require the private sector to match the public sector’s unwavering level of support. Corporations, philanthropic individuals and grant-making institutions all have a unique opportunity to realize a return on these investments through economic development, advances in arts education, and the enhanced cultural vibrancy of our community.

Now it’s time for our private sector partners to make an impact on the hearts and minds of our community’s youngest members by seizing that opportunity.

M. John Richard is President and CEO of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County.