In 2013, ArtsWave, in conjunction with the Greater Cincinnati Alliance for Arts Education, partnered with Cincinnati Public Schools as well as two school districts in Northern Kentucky to conduct an Arts Education Community Audit. While not the beginning of ArtsWave’s support for arts education, this marked an important milestone and produced lessons that continue to inform our strategies today.

The results of the audit were striking. 88% of parents and community members indicated that they consider arts experiences and opportunities a very important part of education, but only 32% of educators reported having resources available to them to take advantage of educational offerings by arts organizations.

National studies showed another disheartening trend: Since the 1980s, arts education access has declined by almost 50% in African American and Hispanic communities. In predominately white populations, access to arts education also declined, but not as severely, and with signs of recovery.

ArtsWave shared these findings with arts and community partners to find solutions. Previous research showed that students who are impacted the most by arts education have access to all "three legs of a three-legged stool": ​arts education​, fundamentals taught by specialists in the schools; ​arts integration​, cooperative work between teachers and specialists to integrate the arts into other core curricula; and ​arts enrichment​, additional touch points like field trips, after-school programming and summer camps. The solutions we sought aimed to improve all three.

Now, through our Blueprint for Collection Action for the Arts Sector, we focus on how arts fuel creativity and learning, particularly in underserved areas. With the help of donors, we have targeted neighborhood schools in the broader range of Cincinnati public elementary school with LISC’s Place Matters program.

Last year, ArtsWave, the Greater Cincinnati Alliance of Arts Educators and the Greater Cincinnati STEM Collaborative worked together with generous support from Toyota to create Cincy Arts + STEM, a website that connects families and students to educators and organizations that offer STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) programs after school and over the summer.

These efforts, in addition to our continuing support of arts educators through Impact grants and STEAM mini-grants directly to teachers, have yielded powerful results. In the 2015-2016 school year alone, ArtsWave funding resulted in 185,597 arts education experiences in the Greater Cincinnati region. 50,658 of these came from the Cincinnati Public School District, where our funding reached all 53 schools of the district. 53,336 came from Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties in Northern Kentucky. In total, our support reached over 500 schools, providing each with increased access to arts education.

But we’re not done yet – not by a long shot. As ArtsWave continues its work in convening, planning, promoting and funding Cincinnati’s arts, we will continue to seek out new ways to bring arts education to students, especially those in underserved areas. As we begin to celebrate National Arts in Education Week, we remind ourselves anew of the vital role of the arts in shaping creative and agile future generations.