Family Arts Day
Sat., June 11 • 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
On May 25, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce passed The Setting New Priorities in Education Spending Act (HR 1891) to eliminate the U.S. Department of Education’s arts education program. Among the program’s largest services are grants meant to promote creativity in the classroom. Countless arts and education organizations across the country have come to rely on these grants and the measure, if passed through the Senate, would certainly hit home for Wilmington kids.
“We are supported in large part by grant funding,” Emily Colin, associate director of DREAMS Center for Arts Education, says. “We have wonderful private donors, but the program derives a substantial component of support by grant sources.”
Colin, who handles most of the grant writing for DREAMS, is busy with her colleagues this week as they put together DREAMS Family Day at the Hanover Center, scheduled for June 11th. “It’s kind of a school’s out celebration,” she says.
Several of the center’s art teachers will be there to engage the community in activities like pottery, recycled art, drum circles and more. The event is a display of the center’s mission, which is to engage the public, mainly children, in creative passions that make them feel connected and inspired. Naturally, the event is free, making it accessible to anyone.
DREAMS and programs like it function largely under the wing of the NC Arts Council, along with the Department of Public Instruction and the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Program. Partners like these would also be threatened, as the bill aims to eliminate around 40 education-related departments altogether. The bill’s sponsor, Representative Duncan Hunter (R-CA), says it would go after programs he has identified as “inefficient and unnecessary.” Though Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) attempted to amend the bill to restore the funding to arts and other education programs, his additions were removed before the bill passed. The Democratic-controlled Senate will ultimately decide the initiative’s fate, but Colin says the House actions are enough to get her fired up.
“Useless?” she questions in response to Representative Hunter’s comments. “Arts education is far from useless. I can’t speak for all of the programs out there, but DREAMS is not just art for art’s sake. We use the arts as a tool to reach out to youth in need. Just take a look at our results. Over the past five years, 100 percent of the high-school seniors at our center have gone to college, as opposed to New Hanover County’s average. It’s well below our number.”
Colin goes on to say that the programs they offer go beyond the classroom, reaching further corners of the kids’ lives, like family relationships and social skills. “Parents feel that the center has improved the behavior of their kids and brought them closer together,” Colin says. “Come spend a day at the center and see if you still believe it’s a waste of money. I think the programs speak for themselves.”
As for the funding, Colin says she “shudders to think” about the consequences for DREAMS if the bill was signed into law. “It’s more than accepting a check,” she says. “It’s entering a collaboration and a partnership. The City of Wilmington continues to fund us becase they believe in us.”
Yet she says they haven’t gone without their share of sacrifices already, having received less and less money from the city as the budget belts were tightened over the years. DREAMS runs its own fundraising efforts, participating in everything from bake sales to fashion shows, but the public funding is their financial foundation. “It’s a tough world out there,” she says. “I don’t know what would happen if that support went away.”