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Funding cuts to ArtsBridge imperil arts program for California's children

- ArtsBridge is a statewide outreach program founded at the University of California, Irvine, in 1996 as a way to bring the arts into K-12 public school classrooms. Following the California Department of Education's call for increasing art achievement in schools, the ArtsBridge program was expanded in 1998 to include all eight University of California campuses and funding was approved by the state legislature. It has since expanded to include some California State universities, and the idea has spread to other states and other colleges around the country,

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At UC Berkeley, ArtsBridge provides scholarships to college arts students who travel into K-12 classrooms around the Bay Area to conduct workshops in a variety of arts, including video production, theatre, painting, and dance. Approximately 75 percent of the public schools which host ArtsBridge scholars are low performing, with reading scores averaging in the lowest percentiles. Each semester, the potential ArtsBridge scholar proposes a program to take into the schools. In collaboration with various public school teachers, the ArtsBridge coordinators match the student with a K-12 class, based on how well the scholar's project corresponds with the needs of any particular teacher. Many of the teachers like to incorporate their curriculum into their class's ArtsBridge project.

In the fiscal year 2002-03, the legislature slashed the statewide ArtsBridge budget from $1.5 million to $250,000, with $33,000 going to UC Berkeley — an 80 percent reduction from the previous year. While much of the current scholarship funding comes from private donations — including the Walter and Elise Haas Fund, the Dean and Margaret Lesher Foundation, and the East Bay Community Foundation — any reduction in statewide funds for the current fiscal year could end the program. Because private donations are only used to fund scholars directly, a lack of public funding would eliminate the administrative budget, which goes towards matching students with schools and distributing scholarships.

Lea Shikuma, a UC Berkeley ArtsBridge coordinator, notes that losing the ArtsBridge program could have far-reaching effects. "If ArtsBridge is cut, everyone loses out. UC students won't get to have the experience of giving back to the community, and fewer would consider going into teaching. Public school teachers won't have young, vibrant students there to help. And the kids lose out because they won't get the arts education they're lacking."

- Charles Herlevic