When school budgets get tight, often the first subjects that get cut back are the arts. In the autumn of 1998, a group of Port Townsend teachers, school administrators, and community members, concerned about the loss of arts opportunities for students, joined together and applied for a grant from the Washington State Arts Commission. The group, which came to be called the Port Townsend Community Consortium Arts in Education Program (now PT Artscape), wanted to increase the level of collaboration between arts specialists and classroom teachers in order to integrate arts lessons more fully into the curriculum. The PTCC won the grant and, in the eight years since, has been able to place one or two teaching artists in the schools in each academic year.
“The arts let students shine in fields they might not otherwise have access to,” notes Libby Reid, a former elementary teacher and the current program administrator for the PTCC. Teaching artists integrate the arts into the curriculum. In one second grade class students grow potted plants, learning about the science of plant life while simultaneously learning about the art of pottery. The drama teaching artist in the fifth grade helps students reinforce their study of American history through the production of four short historical mini-plays. In the sixth grade, the students are immersed in the study of ancient Egyptian culture, which is enhanced by an intensive arts infusion. Students create artifacts based on authentic works. In the seventh grade, the PTCC’s funding helps pay for an entire week of arts immersion for Blue Heron Middle School students at Centrum every spring.
Working closely with classroom teachers, the teaching artists provide opportunities for teachers, as well as for students. “Integrating arts into the everyday school curriculum helps to give teachers tools for reaching students in different ways,” says Reid. The PTCC also presents “Art Wave,” a month-long showcase of student art in downtown Port Townsend. The PTCC is funded through the WSAC grant, the Port Townsend School District, and community donations. “We could not be doing this without the generous support of the school district and our amazing volunteers,” Reid says. —Ann Williams (From the Centrum ‘Experience’ magazine).