When funding is cut in any school district, arts programs are often the first to go, although they are essential to improving learning outcomes, engagement, and connection in students of all ages. LMU was at the forefront of an essential statewide arts movement last month, once again serving as a meeting place for the arts education champion Turnaround Arts: California.
Turnaround Arts is a non-profit organization currently partnered with 24 middle and elementary public schools across the state, primarily addressing the issue of decreasing arts programs in K-12, with all partner schools classified as Title 1. At the core of Turnaround Arts is an emphasis on community and using the arts as a tool to build creative, inclusive learning environments in which all students have an opportunity for success.
Hosting these meetings was Terry Lenihan, director of art education and professor of studio arts at LMU. She welcomed 40 members of Turnaround Arts in University Hall and Burns Fine Arts Center, participating in discussions on the development of the organization’s educational program in various parts of the state. Lenihan describes Turnaround Arts as a program that is focused on justice and equity, similar to LMU. The main goal is to provide more arts opportunities for all California students, and the majority of the work takes place in marginalized communities, targeting the schools that are most lacking in arts education programs.
The missions of LMU and Turnaround Arts are closely intertwined, both emphasizing service as well as the education of the whole person. “What’s been happening in our schools over these last 25 years is that the curriculum has focused on math and language arts,” said Lenihan. “By making sure more students have access to these really rich experiences in arts education, we’re focused on nurturing the whole student. By providing a space for these teachers to come together and do this work at LMU, we’re providing a service beyond our campus, to our larger community within California.”
Lenihan provided instrumental guidance for Turnaround Arts in their early years and is a current board member with the organization. She also played a key role in fostering the partnership between the program and LMU. After hearing about the importance of the program from Lenihan, Bryant Keith Alexander, dean of the LMU College of Communication and Fine Arts, assisted in providing the resources to turn LMU into one of the program’s main meeting spaces. Ten years later, as Turnaround Arts continues to expand, LMU serves as a hub for arts educators across the state to come together and strategize.
During last month’s meetings, which were part of the program’s Arts Leadership Team Retreat, three arts education leaders from each partner school were invited to engage in strategic and logistical planning of the program. “In a lot of ways, our job at Turnaround Arts is providing technical assistance,” Lenihan said. “In partnership with our schools, we help them accomplish crucial strategic planning around their arts curriculum, and we help them understand how they can use the arts as an educational tool to solve some of their most complex educational problems.”
The main topics of discussion during the retreat were community and equity, more specifically, how the arts can help build community in and out of school and exploring the relationship between equity and arts education. Following the general discussion, a strategic plan was started for each school, complete with actionable steps for educators to bring their ideas to fruition.
The partnership between LMU and Turnaround Arts has proven to be mutually beneficial, placing LMU on the map as a leader in arts education, Lenihan explained. “For LMU, this relationship creates visibility in an area that is elemental to the experience here. Our reputation is known for educating the whole person, being creative, and supporting the arts, and we want outside organizations to know that LMU supports their efforts in improving outcomes for students across our state and beyond.”
To learn more about Turnaround Arts: California, visit their website at turnaroundartsca.org