Mayor Kenneth Barr

Arts Council of Fort Worth & Tarrant County

Organizational Description

The Arts Council is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization founded in 1963 to support and promote arts organizations and help cultivate audiences throughout the community. 1,500 individuals, foundations and businesses make gifts ranging from $35 to $70,000 for unrestricted operating grants to arts groups. In thirty-six years, the Arts Council has raised and distributed nearly $26 million to 60+ different arts groups, and is the single largest contributor to Fort Worth's major arts institutions - the Ballet, Opera and Symphony. In 1998-1999, the Arts Council's Neighborhood Arts Program reached over 50,000 low-income children and family members with free or low-cost arts classes and events.

Educational Program for Children

The Neighborhood Arts Program (NAP) was founded in 1992 as a way to bring the arts, in the form of classes, performances, workshops, and exhibitions, to Fort Worth's low-income neighborhoods. Research revealed in 1991 that many of our citizens, especially those living in low-income areas, were not visiting art museums, attending arts performances, or providing arts education for themselves or their children. NAP was formed to develop and deliver the arts to children and families in low-income neighborhoods, to partner with other agencies in neighborhood revitalization, to encourage participation in the arts as an antidote to antisocial behavior, and to suggest paths to self-esteem and civic pride.

NAP provides safe, creative, and free or very low-cost after-school, evening, and weekend activities, taught by professional artists, for at-risk children and then- families. Over thirty-six local arts groups are funded by the Arts Council every year to present high-quality arts instruction and presentations throughout city neighborhoods. Many of the arts education programs have evolved into professional arts ensembles, employing students and professionals alike, who then perform at neighborhood arts centers. The program served 50,000 children and family members last year, and we hope to serve even more in 2000.

Program Design

The Arts Council collaborates with dozens of local arts groups, corporations, school districts, colleges, and other non-profit organizations. The Eastside Neighborhood Arts Center is an excellent example of a win-win collaboration initiated by the Arts Council for the Neighborhood Arts Program. Texas Wesleyan University (TWU) and the Arts Council split the cost of renovating and renting a formerly abandoned building in a low-income neighborhood in east Fort Worth. During the day, the building now serves as rehearsal space for dancers in the TWU school of Fine Arts. In the evening and on weekends, the center hosts NAP classes, rehearsals, and performances offered by the Jubilee African American Dance Ensemble, MONDO Drummers, Fort Worth Jazz Society, and the Fort Worth Steel Orchestra. These groups provide ongoing classes and performances for NAP participants.

This innovative program appeals to participants because the classes and events are held in the neighborhoods where the families live. Also, program content is creatively structured to appeal to the specific neighborhoods and residents. For example, on Fort Worth's North Side, which has a high concentration of Hispanic residents, classes and performances of traditional Mexican dance, music, and theatre have been very successful. Similarly, on the East Side, which has many predominantly African American neighborhoods, offerings, such as MONDO drummers, steel drum, and modem dance are extremely popular.

Two of the most successful NAP programs, the MONDO drummers, and the Jubilee African American Dance Ensemble began as classes on the East Side. Both groups have become professional ensembles, incorporating student and professional artists in performances throughout our region. These ensembles are very well-known locally, and now have many success stories of youth whose lives have been turned around by the experience.

Specific impact on children: Because the Fort Worth Independent School District does not have formal arts education for the primary grades, and has significantly reduced its arts budget for all grades, children whose parents could not afford extracurricular arts education were simply not being reached. The need for arts education is great, and in low-income areas, so is the need for safe, low-cost after school and evening programs for children. NAP meets both needs by providing a wide array of exciting and constructive classes and events during hours when many children might otherwise be unsupervised.

Recent research conducted by a consortium of arts groups and government agencies around the country confirmed that art programs are a very effective tool in helping at-risk youth. NAP strives to achieve the following findings: art programs positively affect the skills, attitudes, and behaviors of youth in high-risk environments; youth who participated in arts programs could express anger appropriately and communicate effectively with adults and their peers; they gained an increased ability to work on tasks from start to finish; they engaged in less delinquent behavior, and had fewer court referrals than their nonparticipating peers during the program; they showed an improved attitude toward school, improved self-esteem, and greater self-efficacy; and, they had a greater resistance to peer pressure.

In 1999-2000, we reached at least 50,000 children and family members with NAP programs that really make a difference. The additional effects of the program on the neighborhoods, in the form of physical revitalization, decreased crime, and community morale, are immeasurable.

Community Support

The Program enjoys wide-spread community support. By far, the largest contributor is the City of Fort Worth, which contributes $250,000 annually to the program. The Texas Commission on the Arts provides another $9,000, with the balance of the $400,000 budget coming from 25 corporations and 12 foundations.

Program Replication

This program would be easy to replicate in any community that has professional arts organizations and/or a medium to large university. Most of our instructors and performers are also employed by our local professional arts groups, or by our three universities. Because of the diversity of the program, and because we use existing neighborhood facilities, the program infrastructure is shared by many organizations.


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