As it enters its fourth year in Meridian, the Ensuring the Arts for Any Given Child initiative is making a strong push to raise funds and create community awareness about the program.
In 2016, Meridian was selected by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts as the 23rd city to host the program, which seeks to integrate dance, music, theater, and visual arts into the school experience for pre K-8 students in the Meridian Public School District.
The collaboration includes MSU-Meridian, community members, local educators, and the Kennedy Center.
In the early steps of the program, the center helped with funding, but the long term goal is for sites to raise money to keep the program going past the fourth year.
The program goes through several phases.
Phase 1, year 1 is the strategic planning process in which the Kennedy Center brings in consultants to create a plan. Phase 2, which involves years two and three, is the actual implementation of the program, which includes integrating the arts into the curriculum.
Phase 3 is the fourth year and beyond and involves expanding arts education in the community. This phase includes looking at funding, staffing and marketing for the program once the Kennedy Center leaves and no longer provides funding.
Clair Huff, the arts coordinator for the Meridian Public School District, said that during the first year, teachers were surveyed on what they wanted to see in terms of arts integration. Huff said the main focus for the second year (2017-2018) was providing training for teachers in how to integrate art in the classroom.
During the third year (2018-2019) the focus was on providing students with experiences outside the classroom.
“We reached more students in year three because we had opportunities for them to go to the MAX, the Riley Center,” Huff said. “Or to go Meridian Little Theatre and experience a play or dance performance.”
Other activities over the past year include the creation of arts integrated lesson plans, the establishment of a district arts team, several artist residencies; a partnership with the Meridian Symphony Orchestra, a visual art showcase; and several professional development opportunities for teachers.
Huff said she’s also relied on support from the Kennedy Center about the progress of the program.
“There are cities that have been in Any Given Child since the beginning who can share their road or journey with us,” Huff said. “We can go from that and use some that here in Meridian.”
Jeff Leffery, a professor at MSU-Meridian, is the Any Given Child Initiative liaison. Part of his role includes overseeing the work of the community arts team in terms of fundraising and programs that are available.
Leffery said the program has to file a yearly report with the Kennedy Center each September. That report is shared with the community arts team and the Meridian Public School District.
Leffery said one thing he's learned as the program's liaison is the role arts can play in the community. Because Meridian is a small city, it needs the program because it can motivate students to learn.
“It's kind of scary to think about that if Any Given Child didn’t exist, there would be a void in the community,” he said.
One big push
Charlotte Tabereaux, an Any Given Child board member who wrote the initial application, said the main concern for the upcoming year is funding.
“There will be a big push this year,” said Tabereaux, who served as the program's liaison prior to Leffery. “It's a four-year commitment, but that doesn’t mean that it will stop after four years.”
Tabereaux said that each year, the program’s budget has changed. The budget for the second year was $200,000, and for the third year it was $300,000. For the upcoming year, it will be almost $300,000, according to Tabereaux.
For the first three years of the program, the Riley Foundation granted Any Given Child funds, but the amount dropped each year, according to Tabereaux. The first year, the foundation gave $100,000, $50,000 the second year and $25,000 the third year.
Tabereaux said the Phil Hardin Foundation has granted $100,000 each year. Other funding comes from the Broadhead Foundation, the City of Meridian, as well as local organizations and people in the community. Huff said they are also waiting to hear back about a Mississippi Arts Commission Project Grant.
With fundraising in mind, the program is planning several benefits starting in the fall, Tabereaux said.
One will be a pancake breakfast at city hall involving Meridian Public School District students, while another fundraiser includes a karaoke night for members of the community.
“We really need to get some financial support and volunteer support," Tabereaux said. "We feel like we can do that this upcoming year.”
Tabereaux said it will take time to see the results of Any Given Child, but she is optimistic that long term, it will have a positive impact on the community.
She said several parents have told her they are glad their kids are using their creativity.
“It really makes a difference in the lives of our children,” she said.
“We will continue to look to the future to build sustainability for Any Given Child,” she said.