Community Initiative Supporting Rural Arts Education in the Ozarks

Last Updated: April 28, 2012

This article appeared in the April 2012 Rural Policy Matters.

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Budding artisans in rural schools in the Ozarks are benefitting from an initiative that brings hands-on, cross-curricular art lessons that engage them and encourage them to integrate their artwork into their communities. Founded in 2010 as an arts education initiative of the Rural Schools Partnership, Placeworks funds an artist-in-residence to bring interdisciplinary art projects to rural school districts in Missouri.

Kate Baird, a former teaching artist at the Guggenheim Museum, the Kentler International Drawing Space, and the Rubin Museum of Art in New York, visits the classrooms free of charge. She brings lesson plans, ideas, and materials for original projects that schools otherwise would not have.

As school districts face funding cuts, the arts are typically the first to be sacrificed, despite being designated a ‘core academic subject’ under the 2002 version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (No Child Left Behind) and being a part of curriculum requirements in most states.

But Placeworks is making a difference in rural Missouri. Artist Baird estimates that more than 800 students have participated in Placeworks projects since its inception. This number includes students in Fordland, who created an art installation for the school’s entry hallway using only pool noodles, and Conway students who designed imaginary road signs for historic Route 66, which runs through the middle of their town.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) released a study entitled Arts Education in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools 1999–2000 and 2009–10 which confirmed the uneven availability of classes in the arts to students across the country. In 2009–10, for example, schools with the highest percentage of free or reduced-price lunch-eligible students were significantly less likely to provide access to arts education at both the elementary and secondary levels.

Not only are art classes a victim of funding shortfalls, they are also often under-prioritized as curriculum is narrowed in favor of courses lending themselves more easily to standardized testing. And, there are other challenges to implementing arts education for rural districts. Arts teachers typically carry very full loads, and many teach at more than one school, according to the NCES report.

Read more:

Information about the Placeworks program, including a current application for schools interested in the program here:

More coverage of Placeworks projects here:

Read the NCES Report here:

Learn more about how to measure arts education resources in your own community here:

Reports on the status of arts education in a number of states here:

Read more from the April 2012
Rural Policy Matters.