Surprising Schoolyard Pals: NYC Arts Orgs Trend Toward Education

Students learn through art at a charter high school founded with the help of Lincoln Center Institute in the northwest Bronx. Photo courtesy of New Visions for Public Schools.

Arts organizations across the city are getting into the business of education and the institutions involved may both surprise and impress you.

The Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Roundabout Theatre CompanyBlue Man Group and, as of this fall, the Lincoln Center Institute have all opened or partnered with schools, thereby expanding their brands while taking art off the wall (or stage) and bringing it into the classroom.

We aren’t talking about just violin lessons here.

As arts programs in schools across the city go to the chopping block, these new and oftentimes unlikely partnerships offer the arts a major role in both primary and secondary education at select regular public schools, charter schools and private schools. But we aren’t talking about just violin lessons here. In some cases, the arts organizations are helping to design academic programs using an understanding of art as a way to teach other subjects.

The Lincoln Center Institute (LCI) is the educational arm of Lincoln Center and has been teaching “imaginative learning” for more than 35 years to students and teachers through a network of K-12 school partnerships and university consultancies. The Institute partnered this fall with the school network New Visions for Public Schools to open two charter high schools in the Bronx. Two more high schools are set to open this spring, and 18 are planned in total.

While some students at the Lincoln Center-affiliated schools do in fact learn to play an instrument, students receive instruction in many subjects. More than anything, the school is steeped in the didactic philosophy it calls “Capacities for Imaginative Learning.”

The Lincoln Center Institute, the educational arm of Lincoln Center, teaches “imaginative learning,” which encourages creativity in education. The organization plans to open 18 schools. Photo courtesy of New Visions for Public Schools.

“We’re very interested in the question of how imagination and creativity play out in education,” said Lincoln Center Institute Executive Director Scott Noppe-Brandon.

He said the arts are a “natural generator of imagination,” and that if educators can show that using the arts as a way to look at other subjects is relevant, maybe in the future arts education will not be the first subject to be cut when budgets are tight.

This is not the first time the Lincoln Center Institute’s philosophy has been implemented in public schools. High School for the Arts, Imagination and Inquiry, which opened in 2007, uses their model and teachers from the Institute; however, the school was not founded by the organization.

According to a report released last spring by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, the educational approach of organizations like the Lincoln Center Institute is right on the money. The report found that teaching multiple subjects through an understanding of the arts, so-called “arts integration,” showed promise as an educational strategy. The report notes that students taught in schools with arts integration were more engaged with the material and that the greatest gains were often with the most hard-to-reach and economically disadvantaged students.

The Lincoln Center Institute is not the only New York City cultural institution to see the writing on the blackboard…

Following are a few other noteworthy partnerships between schools and arts organizations:

Students performing "Oedipus Rex" at the Bronx Theatre High School, which has a partnership with the Roundabout Theatre Company. Photo courtesy of the Bronx Theatre High School.

The Roundabout Theatre Company and the Bronx Theatre High School and Brooklyn School for Music and Theatre

Through their partnership with the Roundabout Theatre Company, which began in 2003, these schools offer courses in set and costume design, acting and theater business, in addition to general education classes. The Brooklyn school also offers courses in music and audio production.


The Ghetto Film School and The Cinema School

Students learning about cameras at The Cinema School in the Bronx, which is partnered with the Ghetto Film School. Photo Courtesy of The Cinema School.

This highly selective Bronx public high school is run in conjunction with the Ghetto Film School, which is devoted to teaching storytelling to youth in New York City. Founded in 2009, this school teaches a liberal arts education alongside filmmaking courses. Part of this school’s philosophy is that filmmaking “opens up new ways of seeing and thinking.”


BAM and the Community Roots Charter School

Students taking dance class at Community Roots Charter School, among New York City's most popular charter schools. Photo courtesy of Community Roots Charter School.

This charter school in Fort Greene, Brooklyn opened in 2006 and is one of the most popular charters in the city, according to the New York Times. The school has an “institutional partnership” with the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which is also located in Fort Greene. The school’s founders wrote on their website that “BAM’s goal is to provide to students the same caliber of groundbreaking, challenging work from around the world that it provides for adults.”


Blue Man Group and The Blue School

The Blue Man Group founded the Blue School, a laboratory for "cultivating culture." Flickr/chealion.

Opened in 2006 by the founders of Blue Man Group, an experimental theater group, the Blue School is a private school serving children from 2 years of age through fifth grade. Perhaps not surprisingly, at this lower Manhattan school “creativity is cherished” and important values include expression, playfulness, family and community connection, self-awareness and well-being.

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