City with lifted head singing: Music education and cultural policy in Chicago

Title and research by Meredith Aska McBride; blog entry by Anna Joranger

Urban Gateways is thrilled to be participating in the research of a fantastic lady whose dissertation proposal introduction is linked below – Meredith Aska McBride!

Who is Meredith?

She’s the secretary of our New Arts Forum; she is a PhD candidate in ethnomusicology at the University of Chicago; and wow, how even to sum up her amazing work surrounding music and arts education? In writing her dissertation about music education and cultural policy in Chicago, Meredith is using Urban Gateways as one of her primary fieldwork sites. Her dissertation merges ethnomusicology and ethnography with urban studies and a close look at neighborhoods, race, and class in Chicago…not to mention the new Chicago Cultural Plan’s impact on the Windy City and its citizenry. A HUGE subject and a very, very important one.

So why Urban Gateways?

As Meredith put it: We are a large multi-disciplinary organization and we reach 75,000 Chicago children annually. Our reach and breadth make our work a solid representation of arts education in Chicago. That’s why Meredith, already one of our greatest advocates, will be spending some quality time with our music teaching artists and students, getting to know them and witnessing their experiences for her research.



Meredith Aska McBride

Some striking pieces of research that I pulled from her introduction, because their implications are both difficult and crucial:

“In 2008, less than half of eighteen-year-olds surveyed by the National Endowment for the Arts in the Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA) reported that they had any type of arts education as children. In 1982, almost two-thirds of eighteen-year-olds had had this experience. Although the National Center for Educational Statistics reports that, in the 1999-2000 academic year, over 90 percent of both elementary and high schools offered music, and a similar percentage offered visual arts, these offerings may not have been accessible to all students. According to the NEA, during the period between 1982 and 2008, the prevalence of music education participation in particular declined by 30 percent.” (1)

“Unfortunately but perhaps unsurprisingly, these declines in arts education and participation have been particularly concentrated among poor, urban, and/or of-color students. Rabkin and Hedberg write that ‘the Chicago school district—the third-largest in the country—budgets a half-time art or music teacher in elementary schools with up to 750 students. A single art or music teacher could be responsible for teaching up to 1,500 students in Chicago elementary schools. Given this staffing situation, some students may not receive regular instruction in either art form.’ They continue, ‘The average elementary school student in Chicago, for instance, received less than 45 minutes of art or music a week in 2001.'” (2)

We can’t wait to delve further into her work. For now, enjoy her beautiful introduction – and later, check in for more on this research partnership.


1. Rabkin, Nick, and E.C. Hedberg/NORC at the University of Chicago. “Arts education in America: What the declines mean for arts participation.” National Endowment for the Arts Research Report #52. 2011. Page 44.

2. Ibid, 42.