Kansas City Young Audiences: Integrating Creativity at Scale

Kansas City (KC) isn’t the first place you think of when you think of “the arts”. Sure you might think of a history of prohibition-era jazz, or even some classic songs featuring Kansas City in the title or refrain, but due to the large footprint of the Nelson Atkins Art Museum, the Kansas City Art Institute, the Kauffman Performing Arts Center and numerous author arts organizations, Kansas City is a city that continues to nurture a thriving arts community. 

Enter Kansas City Young Audiences (KCYA), part of the national Young Audiences organization and a KC staple for inspiring young minds towards creativity. For years KCYA has served as a reliable source for artistic extracurriculars for kids, offering dance classes, art classes, and improv classes, as well as individual lessons and a large catalog of extended arts summer camps. 

Along the way, KCYA built partnerships with artists and districts to create short, custom curriculums and establish pathways for artists to get in the classroom and inspire through arts integration. According to the Kennedy Center, arts integration is “an approach to teaching in which students construct and demonstrate understanding through an art form. Students engage in a creative process that connects an art form and another subject area and meets evolving objectives in both.” This inclination towards arts integration was fortuitous timing because it coincided with conversations of STEAM that were already sweeping the nation.

“KCYA has a rigorous application process for teaching artists,” says Marty Arvizu, Director of Marketing & Business Development at KCYA, “the prospective artist develops their program (a classroom workshop, residency, school assembly performance, or professional development for educators) that is both arts and curriculum-based. Then, KCYA convenes a panel that includes staff, other teaching artists, and educators to review the applications. Only programs that have high artistic quality and strong curriculum connections are selected. Our current roster includes more than 140 teaching artists and, in the 2018-19 school year, their programs reached more than 118,000 children in the Kansas City metro. In our nearly 60 year history, we have served more than 6 million children with quality arts education experiences!”

After establishing this robust catalog of arts integration offerings, KCYA began to build lasting ties with a vast number of KC districts, serving both as tour guides to bridge schools to the KC art scene, as well as offering unique artist residency and “teaching artist” programs within the walls of the individual schools. 

This year, KCYA was selected to partner with the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., one of the leading advocates for the arts in the nation. Serving both sides of the Kansas/Missouri state line and a broad demographic of students, this partnership aims to create better ties between the different districts with hopes of building empathy and a more powerful curriculum in each district.  

“Kansas City Young Audiences will allow the partnership to increase the reach across the Greater Kansas City Metropolitan area and hone the teaching skills of local teaching artists by inviting them to training opportunities. The combination of these highly established and rigorous educational programs will enhance the cross-state partnership to greater benefit for the entire metropolitan area” said Emily Behrmann, General Manager at the Carlsen Center at Johnson County Community College. 

This year KCYA teamed up with a Ph.D. student from Purdue to survey and study the impacts of an Integrated Arts Education Program (IAEP), an initiative funded by the Kennedy Center. Here’s what they found: 

  • Students reported an 86% increase in the enjoyment of lessons and learning when arts were integrated 
  • 54% of students said that having a teaching artist inspired them to learn more 
  • 97% of teachers were inspired to further develop relationships with their colleagues to further support arts integration in their schools
  • 98% of students said that working with a teaching artist inspired them to be creative

Creativity is a necessary skill for the future and one that we must find ways to nurture at scale in the years to come. Arts integration is one effective method of doing this.  It also is the perfect supplement for implementing high-quality project-based learning, building empathy and increasing the likelihood of encouraging lifelong learning through matching passion, discovery, and autonomy. 

As KCYA continues to grow, they are turning an eye towards continued community engagement, professional development programs for educators and additional opportunities to reach children where they are: both in schools and in after-school programs. 

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Mason Pashia

Mason is the Creative Director at Getting Smart. He is an advocate for arts education, strategy, design thinking and poetry.

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