More Arts in Chicago Schools Last Year

More Arts in Chicago Schools Last Year
flickr/Phil Roeder
More Arts in Chicago Schools Last Year
flickr/Phil Roeder

More Arts in Chicago Schools Last Year

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A new report shows an increase in the number of art teachers across Chicago Public Schools — from 1,278 in 2013-14 to 1,322 last school year.

Ingenuity Inc.has been tracking the state of the arts in CPS for three years.

“The whole idea behind these reports is to communicate what the playing field is and to create the kind of supports that are necessary for change,” said Paul Sznewajs, executive director of Ingenuity.

Sznewajs says he was pleasantly surprised to see an increase in the number of art teachers. But the report notes the increase includes 84 arts positions funded by the mayor’s office using special tax dollars, known as TIF funds.

The report also said more cultural institutions and local artists are getting involved at schools.

For example, Sznewajs said, at Prosser High School, a music teacher, a French teacher and a history teacher collaborated to study the migration of creole music up the Mississippi River to Chicago.

“They worked with Orbert Davis and the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic,” Sznewajs said. “Then the children created their own original works of music and performed them at the end.”

Evan Plummer, director of arts instruction at CPS, said the report shows the impact that the district’s arts plan has had so far. Designed three years ago, the arts education plan was an extension of the city’s broader cultural plan. Among other changes, CPS added art to the required core curriculum.

But some schools still struggle to provide arts programming or can’t afford a certified art teacher.

“I have not met a principal who said, ‘I don’t want the arts in my school,’” Plummer said. “Of course principals want arts in their school. The question is, how can they do that given the other challenges and the demands that schools encounter every day?”

Plummer said his department tries to work with principals to come up with creative solutions in the face of budget cuts. CPS may be laying off thousands of staff in February if it can’t close a $480 million budget hole.

“What are the untapped resources in the school that are more or less cost neutral — if that’s the concern of the principal — that will also increase the arts,” he said. “Maybe there’s an English teacher who has an endorsement in Drama or Theater who could teach a drama class.”

According to Ingenuity’s report, about 100 schools did not report any data and another two dozen reported that they did not have a certified art teacher on staff.

Tom Bunting, a data analyst at Ingenuity Inc. said people can look up their school or schools near their home using the Artlook map.

Becky Vevea is an education reporter for WBEZ. You can follow her @WBEZeducation.