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El Arte: Arts Infused Education

El Arte brings artists into the classrooms of at-risk students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade for arts-infused education. Artists use hands-on methods, which improve student performance in core subjects through the arts. They work closely with classroom teachers to pilot innovative curriculum that target unmet student needs. 
Michigan Nightlight: In your view, what makes your program innovative, effective or remarkable? 
Living Arts Detroit Co-Executive Director Cara Graninger: We’re very effective at engaging at-risk students, many of whom are English language learners, in arts to boost academic achievement and their overall development. These aren’t new; they have been done in other school districts very effectively, but we’re beginning to really grow to help at-risk students increase their academic achievement through the arts, which helps their overall development as well as academics.
What was the best lesson learned in the past year?
This is more an operational thing – we were able to afford dedicated program managers for the two main parts of our program: for our early learning pre-K program and for our K-8. Their facilitation was very beneficial since prior to that, as program director, I was doing some program management, too and trying to run and raise money for it. The project went very well, and we were able to build capacity.
What was the hardest lesson learned in the past year?
The hardest part of the year was the beginning. We had to delay the start of our programs significantly to confirm all our funding. We were wondering if we were getting a major grant that made a big difference. That was hard lesson and not
I think that we have a best-practice model for arts infused residencies in the schools.
anything bad about our program. At this point in our organization, we rely a little more on grants to see what we will be able to do. We get fee-for-service earned income from Detroit Public Schools and making sure contracts go through and we’re not waiting too long to get paid can be challenging. 
What really differentiates this program?
I think that we have a best-practice model for arts infused residencies in the schools. We’ve been recognized by the National Guild for Community Arts Foundations in that we have an exemplary model for parents within the public schools to help kids learn through the arts. One of best practices is we do a fairly rigorous evaluation to show we are making a difference in the kids’ academic achievement for our pre-K program. We have also participated in several studies with the Marygrove Center for Arts-Infused Education for children in grades 3, 4 and 5. This works, and we know it works thanks to these studies.
What are the keys to success for your program?
I think the two most important ones are we have an amazing team of talented and dedicated teaching artists who are also dedicated to teaching children in Detroit. They have a pretty steep learning curve. They need first to be good in their art form, and they have to be good teachers of youth. They also have to determine, ‘how do I use my art form to help with academics?’ They have a high bar; we want them to address all three and we also need them to be culturally competent.  We really expect them to be competent and sensitive. We have a high bar and they meet it – that’s why we’re successful year after year. It’s a gauge of how successful everyone is when we have classroom teachers and school personnel really engaged in the project. Everything is a partnership…the classroom teacher is really a full partner. We’re lucky to have those every year and it makes a critical difference.
It’s a gauge of how successful everyone is when we have classroom teachers and school personnel really engaged in the project.
How do you innovate programming? Where do the ideas come from? How do you know if they are going to work?

It’s kind of neat because I do think being an arts organization, we really bring artistic practice to how we develop programming. Often what happens is our partners – the school staff or Head Start staff – tell us what they really need this year and we say, “Uh-oh, we don’t know how to do that yet.” We take it back to our team and say, “We’re doing all these English Language Arts projects and they are telling us they need math.” They’re up for the challenge of creating a new curriculum. Classroom teachers give us lots of input about what we are doing and support the teaching artists to do what they do best and come up with new processes. We started setting aside money each year for doing a pilot residency. It’s nice to have that in place. It’s actually a dedicated line item to try to do something new this year and see what we can do better, see what we need to explore. You don’t know if an innovative program will work until you do it.
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  • Living Arts
    Living Arts exists to strengthen the urban neighborhoods of Southwest Detroit by cultivating an environment that sparks the imagination and fosters ingenuity through the arts and community development initiatives.


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