*Video produced by students of the Fillmore Arts Center.
By Lanie Rivera
DC Public Schools (DCPS) recently announced budget cuts facing the District’s Fillmore Arts Center for the 2013-14 school year, according to this letter from the Friends of Fillmore group, a non-profit volunteer board that supports the Fillmore Arts Center.
The downsized arts budget is baffling, as it conflicts with assurances from city officials such as DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson, as well as the District’s $6.8 million arts budget increase from fiscal year 2012-13 (a $2.3 million arts funding increase was proposed by Mayor Vincent Gray for fiscal year 2014 but has yet to be approved).
Henderson, who has recently been under fire for closing D.C. schools, promised that local schools’ arts programs would flourish after 15 schools close. Additional revenue that funded the schools will be allocated to those schools that remain open.
But an article on the Georgetown Dish noted that the arts budget decrease contradicts Henderson’s predictions:
“This year’s cuts to arts and music education at the eight schools come at a curious time: When Henderson announced her citywide school closure and consolidation plan last November, she that said by [closing] 15 schools … the school system would be able to fund more programming, including arts and music, at those that remained open.”
In response to the budget cuts, the Friends of Fillmore group, housed in the same building as Hardy Middle School, created a petition to rally parents together on the issue. Their goal is to force Henderson to stop the impending cuts and restore $300,000 to the program.
Fortunately, the Friends of Fillmore petition has already received tremendous support from Disrtict residents who also value the arts program.
According to a March 22 blog post by the Kelly Richmond, board chair of Friends of Fillmore, “over 250 Fillmore ‘friends’ sign[ed] the petition [since March 21] and reading all the tremendous comments of how Fillmore touches the lives of children past and present who have been able to attend touches my heart.”
Established in 1974, the Fillmore Arts Center provides art education to students at eight public schools in the District. Students are bused to one of two Fillmore locations in the District for two hours of art instruction, which includes classes in music, painting, graphic design, ceramics, theater, dance, architecture and sculpture.
So, I raise this question: why are programs such as Fillmore’s facing threats of budget decreases despite Henderson’s promise? And why cut funding when the District’s budget for arts programs recently increased?
The author of an article on Georgetown Patch posed a related question while noting that Fillmore provides a comprehensive, unmatched service to children through the arts:
“Why would DCPS take money away from a school that offers more in-depth programming —including an auditorium, graphic design lab and kiln — than any neighborhood school could provide on its own?”
In response, Peter Eisler, treasurer of Friends of Fillmore, told Patch that DCPS is “strapped for cash” and it is easier for them to take money from a comprehensive program rather than a single school.
Eisler also told Patch he assumes that Fillmore was subjected to drastic cuts because of the program’s schedule:
“Fillmore lacks the same level of dedicated constituency that you might find in a neighborhood school in part because the children only attend class there once a week, Eisler explained.”
Although Eisler implied that Fillmore has been pushed under the rug, DCPS differed in its response. A DCPS representative told Patch that the cuts were the schools’ fault because several schools stopped using Fillmore’s services.
Nonetheless, the budget cuts have undeniably upset the community. Many city officials do not support the budget decrease, including Councilman Jack Evans of Ward 2.
“I don’t agree with these kinds of cuts,” he told Patch.
When will authorities realize the valuable role art plays in the development of young children?
According to Facts and Figures, a 2012 report compiled by Americans for the Arts and Vans Custom Culture and cited by the Friends of Fillmore website, students who spend four years in art and music education earn an average SAT score of 100 points above those students who are exposed to one-half year or less of arts education.
The budget cuts will inhibit the award-winning program and will surely be a loss to students in the area. Luckily, many parents have recognized the importance of the program for their children’s education and are fighting against the funding decrease.