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Kennedy Center Enlists Art Groups For Education

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is starting a new program that could reinvent arts education for schools struggling with budget cuts and fewer art teachers, organizers said Friday.

The pilot "Any Given Child" project announced Friday for schools in Sacramento, Calif., could be expanded to as many as three cities each year, the center said. Under the strategy, the Kennedy Center will link local arts groups with schools to help teach students in grades K-8.

The groups will draft long-range plans specific to each city to ensure all students have access to music, theater and the visual arts. The Kennedy Center is devoting about $500,000 to begin the program and expects to keep costs low for local groups.

"A frustration I have is that every arts education program sounds good, but I'm not sure it's always contributing to a well-educated child," said Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser, who developed a reputation in New York and Washington for turning around arts groups struggling with financial problems. "We're trying to find an affordable approach to systematic arts education."

Too often, children's education in the arts depends solely whether the teacher appreciates the arts, he said. Kaiser added that schools need a comprehensive way of teaching the arts, as they do with math, to ensure students get a healthy arts education each year.

"Right now what happens is all these organizations offer arts education programs, there's arts education in the schools, but it's never systematic," he said, "it's haphazard."

The center, a living memorial to President Kennedy, already works with teachers in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia to integrate arts throughout their curriculum. Kaiser said he's in talks with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan to possibly expand the latest initiative with federal support.

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson told The Associated Press the initiative could not have come at a better time as school districts face budget cuts. Groups like the Sacramento Theater Company and Crocker Art Museum will also benefit by fostering a new generation of patrons for theater, ballet and art, he said.

Over the next few months, the Kennedy Center will conduct an audit of the local arts scene and existing arts programs in the Sacramento Unified School District and Twin Rivers Unified School District. The audit will help map out an affordable way for school districts and local arts groups to provide arts education together.

Johnson said the initiative will help elevate the capital of California.

"I think arts plays a critical role in educating our youth, which is why I'm excited," Johnson said. "Our goal is to be a world-class city and you need great art to be a great city."

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Associated Press Writer Judy Lin in Sacramento contributed to this report.

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On the Net:

John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: http://www.kennedy-center.org/