Despite Funding Cuts, Devoted Arts Leaders Persevere

News • Urban Gateways News

In these tough economic times, the traditional sources of funding for arts education are ebbing, but dedicated supporters are still finding ways to keep their fine arts programs afloat.

In April, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) announced that it was cutting Title I funding for fine arts, which impacted many programs including an Urban Gateways project with its non-profit partner The Fran Center. UG had spent months organizing arts programming for the nonpublic schools that the Center serves, and we were relying on the Title I funding (annually allocated for schools serving low-income areas) to support those programs.

“The fine arts can change lives. We are developing the individual.” – Lisa Willingham – Director, Ailey Camp Chicago – on why she fought for funding

A similar challenge arose for Ailey Camp Chicago, a highly popular Urban Gateways partnership with the Chicago Park District. Operating out of Garfield Park on Chicago’s west side, Ailey Camp uses dance and creative expression to encourage self-confidence and personal development in its youth. This summer, 80 students between the ages of 11 and 14 registered for the camp. In past years Ailey Camp has depended on support from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), but this year DCFS suffered broad losses and funding to Ailey Camp came up short.

Despite the loss in funding, individuals like Lisa Willingham, director of Ailey Camp Chicago, and Mary Kay O’Rourke, a teacher at St. Angela’s School (served by the Fran Center), were not about to let their fine arts programming come to an end. When Willingham and her coworkers at Ailey Camp realized that their DCFS funding was not panning out, they got creative and went out in search of other sources. In the end, this summer’s funding represents a wide array of supporters: The Parkways Foundation, Chicago Public Schools, Chicago Park District, the Klutz Family Foundation, and private donors all pitched in.

At St. Angela’s, teacher Mary Kay O’Rourke had been collaborating with UG for years to provide quality fine arts education to her students. When Title I funding was cut, O’Rourke unearthed a few small CPS funds set aside for general summer programs and worked with the Fran Center to utilize that money for summer arts classes. Although it can’t undo the misfortune of dozens of other schools losing their fine arts programming this summer, the fact that St. Angela’s pulled the money together and went ahead with their plans allowed many students to experience an unforgettable summer. The same goes for the lucky campers at Ailey.

As Willingham put it, “Ailey Camp and the fine arts can change lives. We are developing the individual.” All of us at Urban Gateways hope that this attitude will spread in the years to come, and we are grateful to the persistent supporters who allow us to fulfill our mission.