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White House Turnaround Arts Initiative Expands

A five-year-old White House program that supports art in struggling schools will join forces with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and continue to add schools in coming years.

First lady Michelle Obama announced the new partnership, which will sustain the Turnaround Arts Initiative, at the White House Turnaround Arts Talent Show on Wednesday.

The Obamas have both spoken about the power of the arts in their own lives and the lives of young people; running the program through the Kennedy Center will ensure that it is sustained after the Obamas leave the White House.

At the first White House Talent Show, in 2014, President Obama said: "The arts are central to who we are as a people, and they are central to the success of our kids. This is not an afterthought."

The Turnaround Arts Initiative funds arts instructors, supplies and instruments, and arts integration at the schools. It also pairs schools with star mentors like Kendrick Lamar, Valerie June, Graham Nash, and Smokey Robinson. 

Next year, 68 schools will be part of the program, which started in eight schools in 2012. The program is adding four schools in Milwaukee; six in California; four in North Dakota; four in Minnesota; and one in New Orleans.

The Turnaround Arts Initiative was started in response to a report from the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, called Reinvesting in Arts Educationthat suggested that arts education could improve academic outcomes in struggling schools.

An evaluation of the program's pilot schools found evidence that the participating schools' academics were improving more than at other schools receiving other federal School Improvement Grants, and found that the schools that had greater implementation of arts programs also had stronger academic gains.

On Tuesday, students from existing turnaround arts programs were preparing to perform at the White House: 


The new Every Student Succeeds Act includes arts as part of a well-rounded education, which advocates hope will allow schools to direct more funds to the arts. Increasing access to arts education for all students has been a priority for the National Endowment for the Arts, and several cities, including Chicago, have examined the quality and distribution of arts programs in an effort to ensure that more schools offer the arts. But in many cities, arts education programs are still not distributed equitably. 


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