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Funders Forum

Walter & Elise Haas Fund

September 2011

Alcoa Foundation The San Francisco-based Walter & Elise Haas Fund is committed to helping build a healthy, just, and vibrant society in which people feel connected to and responsible for their community. One way the foundation carries out its mission is by supporting local programs that strengthen and spread quality arts learning. The Foundation Center asked the fund's executive director, Pamela David:

Question Several studies point to improved educational performance, health, and emotional well-being in children who are introduced to arts education, and to improved economic conditions in communities where the arts can take root and flourish. What evidence of this have you seen in your own work, and which strategies have been most successful?

Answer One of the driving forces behind our work is the positive impact of arts education on strengthening student engagement with teachers, peers, and the world around them; art draws upon different forms of questioning and reasoning from many other disciplines, it honors emotional responses and physical ability, and it fosters teamwork and empathy. We've seen these important qualities emerge many times in the programs we support. For example, our grantees inform us that again and again, teachers have noted that they saw students who tend to struggle — including those with lower grades, those with disabilities, and those who do not speak English at home — suddenly shine in front of their classmates and collaborate with them in unexpected ways. Further, arts contributes to educational outcomes; for example, studies have demonstrated that learning music enhances spatial reasoning and mathematical skills and that studying theater can strengthen reading and oral communications skills.

Elise S. Haas initiated arts education programs over 50 years ago because her own studies of the arts fostered a lifetime of involvement and enjoyment that she wished others could share. As illustrated by An Unfinished Canvas, research commissioned by our colleagues at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, access to arts education is not equally distributed; whether or not a school district has a comprehensive arts program correlates strongly with the socio-economic background of its students.

The Fund's mission of helping build a healthy, just, and vibrant society based on mutual accountability cannot be fulfilled without a quality educational system and engaged school community. To support the "teaching system" for the arts from multiple angles, we work with nonprofits that fill gaps in artistic disciplines or cultural practices left by under-resourced school systems, partner with districts and arts organizations that work with teachers of non-arts subjects on ways to integrate the arts into their teaching in meaningful ways, and support afterschool and out-of-school programs with a strong arts component. Other strategies for strengthening and spreading quality arts learning include pushing for more than "exposure" and "enrichment" by investing in arts organizations that provide sustained, high-quality workshops and opportunities for interaction, encouraging middle-level and advanced learning opportunities to accommodate a fuller range of student experience and abilities, and supporting programs that help level the playing field for low-income students interested in the arts who lack time and space to practice, parental encouragement, and resources needed to secure transportation, uniforms, materials, or instruments. To achieve maximum impact, we seek to ensure that arts education reflects contemporary art practices that are based in research, ask "big" questions, communicate across cultures, and include new forms and media.

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Posner-Wallace Foundation
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