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Campaign Aims to Raise $5 Million for Theater Education

A new fundraising initiative is looking to bring in $5 million to support theater education in 19 U.S. cities. It comes as a recent federal report suggests that access to drama and theater instruction in elementary schools has sharply declined over the past decade, and at the secondary level, it's harder to come by in high-poverty schools than those serving more-affluent populations.

The new campaign, dubbed Impact Creativity, was launched this week with a $200,000 gift from accounting firm Ernst & Young LLP and its partners and principals. It's being orchestrated by the National Corporate Theatre Fund, based in New York City.

The new campaign aims to "motivate corporations, foundations, and individuals to help shape a more intelligent, diverse, confident, and creative 21st-century workforce by investing in arts and theater education as essential learning," said Bruce Whitacre, the executive director of the National Corporate Theatre Fund, in a press release. The organization's 19 member-theaters serve an estimated 500,000 children, most from economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, through their theater education programs, the press release says.

The news gives me a chance to highlight the theater dimension of a recent National Center for Education Statistics report on access to arts education. First, the NCES study found that in the 2009-10 academic year, just 4 percent of U.S. public elementary schools offered instruction designated specifically for drama/theater during regular school hours. That figure represents a huge drop from the 20 percent figure for 1999-2000, the last time the NCES data were collected.

That said, this doesn't tell the whole story. About half of elementary schools, 53 percent, reported that drama/theater was incorporated into other subject areas, up slightly from 50 percent a decade earlier.

At the secondary level, the NCES data point to a sharp disparity in access to drama based on income level. In essence, a low-poverty school was twice as likely to offer instruction in theater/drama than a high-poverty school during the 2008-09 year. In wonkier terms, 56 percent of schools with a poverty rate of 0 to 25 percent provided such instruction, compared with only 28 percent of schools in which at least three-quarters of students live in poverty.

You can read the full report here.

Jim Turley, the chairman and CEO of Ernst & Young, tied the value of arts education to the workforce.

"Tomorrow's workforce must act confidently, communicate effectively, and think creatively—all qualities that can be enhanced through arts and theater education," he said in the press release.

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