eta Creative Arts Foundation
Chicago’s eta Creative Arts Foundation is a leading African American performing institution. Founded in April, 1971, eta soon began to provide training and performance opportunities for both adults and children. The foundation’s on-site arts education training program, which provides ongoing learning opportunities for students six to eighteen years old, follows a sequential arts curriculum in dance, music, and drama. In the mid-1980s, the organization began to partner with the Chicago Public Schools and other groups, embracing arts integration as an instructional approach. From the start, eta staff observed that students who were struggling academically thrived during the performance experience. Foundation president Abena Joan P. Brown recalls that performing helped students to suddenly “hit their mark” in multiple new ways.
Defining Arts Integration
At eta, arts integration programs must integrate artistic disciplines with other disciplines and include these components:
- culture—preserving, promulgating, and perpetuating the African American aesthetic
- creativity—developing students’ creative thinking abilities while nurturing skills-based arts learning in a variety of disciplines
- curriculum—creating authentic connections between academic curriculum areas and arts learning skills
Program Structure and Methodology
Muntu Dance Theatre, eta, and the Community Film Workshop became a consortium that worked to implement arts integration programs in five schools. As the group planned customized programs, members set the goals of meeting the specific needs of each school, keeping in mind the school’s community, its environment, and the SIPAAA, or school improvement plan. Participants agreed that the focus would be on “developing a process rather than a program.” They also established that “a real partnership” exists when schools and partnering arts organizations:
- view arts integration as a valuable teaching methodology
- respect and understand the unique approaches each has used
- are invested in building long-term relationships among teachers, artists, students, and communities
Putting the Program into Action
In one partnership, the reading teacher and teaching artist planned to use music and drama to deepen seventh grade students’ understanding of certain texts. Rather than focusing on preparation for a performance, the teaching team aimed at improving student achievement. The class read aloud a culturally relevant novel from the curriculum, emphasizing fluency skills. When students noted a challenging part of the text, they used improvisation techniques for the purpose of analyzing and better understanding the information. Students reflected on the literature in the form of a song, a scene, or a poem. Each week the teacher and teaching artist monitored students’ comprehension of the text and allowed students time to develop their performance skills in context of the literature. As a result, students quickly addressed their learning challenges and collaborated with their peers to create solutions.
The benefits of eta partnerships are evident to participants. A school principal observed that “the artists that have provided, drama, dance, spoken word, and drum-line instruction have made an incredible difference in how the children view themselves, reinforced connections to curriculum, and exposed them to art forms that would otherwise not be available.”