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The Creative Advantage: Community Arts Partnership Report Highlights Powerful Arts Education Through Two Challenging School Years

By Tina LaPadula

In March 2020, schools across the nation closed their doors in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This report examines the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years, and captures all the ways The Creative Advantage community of teachers and teaching artists persisted, problem-solved, and innovated to keep arts partnerships afloat despite unprecedented challenges.

The Creative Advantage has worked with local evaluation company, The BERC Group to provide a comprehensive annual report on the implementation and impact of the initiative on student and community outcomes. The implementation team is proud of our many successful programming pivots, including CA Online Arts and ALL ACCESS Arts Stream; that the initiative was able to manage even more arts partnerships in 2020-21 than in the previous year; and that The Creative Advantage reached more than 1,000 educators through our virtual professional development offerings.

“The 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years presented unique challenges and opportunities for The Creative Advantage. Program leaders, district, and organizational partners needed to quickly pivot and adjust programming in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to these changes, BERC researchers and program leaders worked together to determine the best way to proceed with an evaluation that would highlight efforts The Creative Advantage team took to continue supporting students and community members despite pandemic related challenges.

One program leader shared, “the pandemic puts us all in a community in a different way, where we are focused on the students and the adults.” New research questions were conceived, and program leaders and researchers developed a plan to conduct a qualitative case study evaluation of The Creative Advantage community partnerships, one of the goals of The Creative Advantage, and an area of targeted investment during the pandemic response.”

– Stacy Mehlberg, Ph. D The BERC Group

The Creative Advantage implementation team is digging into the recommendations section and prioritizing all the ways we can support the students and educators in our community better, as schools jump-start paused arts plans and partners line up for new residency opportunities.

The Creative Advantage Community Arts Partnership Report

About The Creative Advantage:

The Creative Advantage is a city-wide initiative to establish equitable access to arts education for every student in Seattle Public Schools (SPS). It is a collective impact partnership between Seattle Public Schools, Seattle’s Office of Arts & Culture, Seattle Foundation, and 100+ community arts organizations and individual teaching artists.

Since 2007, Seattle Public Schools (SPS) Visual and Performing Arts Program and Seattle Office of Arts & Culture (ARTS) have collaborated to increase student access to quality arts learning in high-need schools. In 2012, with funding from The Wallace Foundation, the district conducted a needs assessment on the state of arts education in SPS. The report showed access to an arts education is predictable based on race and ethnicity, Free and Reduced Lunch, Special Education, and English Learner status.

To address these inequities, the Seattle K-12 Arts Plan was created, which laid out specific strategies for all students to receive a comprehensive, sequential, and predictable arts education. To realize the plan, The Creative Advantage was born — solidifying the collective impact partnership between SPS and ARTS as the “backbone” management structure, The Seattle Foundation as the fiscal agent, and high leverage partners to support essential goals of the arts plan. As of 2020-2021, the initiative is in 81 schools (out of 106) and will expand to the entire district over time, supporting a total of 55,000+ students.

The Creative Advantage approach includes prioritizing increased arts access in the schools, addressing issues of racial equity, engaging in regional and school arts planning with K-12 pathways, building community arts partnerships, providing comprehensive professional development, and conducting rigorous evaluation of the program to address emerging promising practices and continuous improvement. The goals of The Creative Advantage are to ensure that every student in every school receives:

  • High quality arts instruction that teaches sequential arts skills and techniques, develops 21st Century Skills, and is culturally responsive
  • Instruction from certified arts teachers
  • Integrated arts instruction
  • Arts partnerships with community-based organizations and teaching artists
  • Opportunities to connect arts to careers in high school

Want to get involved? The Creative Advantage Arts Partner Roster Application is open now through March 7. More info here.