Emanuel seeks $38 million in private funding for CPS arts education

Mayor Rahm Emanuel launches his "Be Creative" campaign, an effort to raise $38 million for arts education funding.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel launches his “Be Creative” campaign, an effort to raise $38 million for arts education funding.

By Elizabeth Atkinson

Mayor Rahm Emanuel called on private donors Tuesday to help him raise $38 million to expand arts education in Chicago Public Schools. Emanuel launched his campaign at Benito Juarez Community Academy in the Pilsen neighborhood before a group of students, teachers and donors. He was flanked by cellist Yo-Yo Ma and soprano Renee Fleming, honorary co-chairs of the “Be Creative” campaign. The internationally known artists performed a selection from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” with a group of Benito Juarez students.

Already, $11 million has been raised from private sources, Emanuel told the crowd.

The Chicago Public School systems already requires 120 minutes of arts education per week for all elementary and middle-school students. High schools are required to offer students at least two disciplines such as visual art and music, or music and theater, said AmySue Mertens of Ingenuity, a nonprofit arts education partner to CPS that was established in 2011. High school students are not required to take art classes to graduate.

For the current school year, CPS is investing $11.5 million to hire 80 new arts teachers for schools without art teachers.

The additional funding Emanuel is seeking would go toward classroom materials including musical instruments, cameras and the rights to scripts for plays and musicals. It also would pay for data collection that would rate the effectiveness of the program.

It’s no surprise that schools have been forced to make decisions between arts teachers or other specialists, says Linda Lenz, publisher and founder of Catalyst Chicago, an independent news magazine that tracks reform efforts in Chicago Public Schools. “When budgets get tight, they cut arts.”

However, Chicago could become a leader in arts education, she said, because CPS already has significant arts programming. Lenz says she expects the mayor to reach his fundraising goal because many philanthropists are willing to contribute to arts education funding.