Almost from its inception, the tag line, One Grade. One Venue. Guaranteed., has served as the Cultural Experience Project’s (CEP) mission statement. Not only does it embody the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs’ (OCA) vision for and commitment to Atlanta Public Schools (APS) students, but also, the five words are the quintessential elevator pitch – they describe, succinctly and in clear language, what the program is all about.
For at least two decades, K-12 arts funding has been in decline. Added to that fact, federal legislation enacted in the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, refocused administrators at school districts around the country on reading, math, and accountability for student achievement. As a result, arts instruction suffered, and children were left without opportunities to explore more right-brain activities.
We know now that arts and culture education is critical to the development of the whole child—particularly for low-income and POC students. To help synthesize the research, Americans for the Arts outlined ten ways in which the arts benefit all children (visit americansforthearts.org and search for 10 arts education fast facts).
With assistance from OCA Art Program Manager, Monica Prothro, and in partnership with APS staff, we launched the program during the 2004-2005 academic year. Together, we moved arts and culture exposure and education to the front of the line for APS students. Founding the program was also personal for me. At the time, my children were enrolled in local public schools. As I moved around the city, I noticed fewer APS school buses parked outside cultural venues than those from other districts. With the Mayor’s blessing, I took action.
Approaching its 17th anniversary, CEP continues to follow the research and remains committed to the APS students it serves. Throughout its almost two-decade-long history, CEP has benefitted significantly from generous donors and cultural partners. Staff at area cultural venues create eye-opening experiences for students that are grade-appropriate, intellectually stimulating and fun.
Now, as we sit poised to emerge from COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions, we are eager to reengaging our APS colleagues, cultural partners, and donors to once again offer to APS students the phenomenal cultural experiences for which the program is known – One Grade. One Venue. Guaranteed.
Camille Russell Love has been executive director of the City of Atlanta Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs for more than two decades.