Spark! receives $150K grant for arts education

The Washington Foundation announced the grant’s continuation at Monday’s teacher training program hosted by Spark! and the Kennedy Center. (Photo by Jackalynn Snow )

By Sherry Devlin

Ensuring the continued integration of arts education in all Missoula County Public Schools classrooms, the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation on Monday announced a three-year, $150,000 extension of its grant to Spark! – Arts Ignite Learning.

The funding provides the local arts integration program with a full-time director, who coordinates Spark’s artist-in-residence programs, teacher training workshops and schoolwide presentations.

Mike Halligan, executive director of the Washington Foundation, announced the grant’s continuation for a second, three-year period at Monday’s teacher training program hosted by Spark! and the Kennedy Center.

Missoula is the smallest city in the United States to earn inclusion in the Kennedy Center’s Any Given Child program. The nationwide effort focuses on ensuring equal access to diverse arts learning opportunities for all students.

Spark! is the local embodiment of the national program and has worked since 2013 to bring a wide variety of arts learning opportunities to MCPS classrooms. The program began in K-5 schools, then expanded earlier this year to Missoula middle schools and will soon move into the city’s three public high schools.

A community collaboration, Spark! also receives support from the city of Missoula, MCPS, the University of Montana’s College of Visual and Performing Arts, Arts Missoula, and a long list of local businesses, philanthropic and arts organizations, and artists.

The Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation has supported the program from its start, and in fact was instrumental in bringing the Kennedy Center to Missoula for its initial presentation to community leaders.

“Phyllis Washington learned about this program while serving on the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts Advisory Committee, and her hope was to expand arts opportunities to every child in the Missoula County School system,” Halligan said during Monday morning’s announcement at Meadow Hill Middle School.

“With the strong support of the arts community, the priority given to arts integration by Missoula County Public Schools and other partners, the program has met every expectation,” Halligan said.

Only 20 communities in the nation have been designated as arts integration sites by the Kennedy Center.

During the 2015-2016 academic year, Spark! provided programming for 5,246 MCPS K-8 students and 296 educators, with 1,599 hours of additional direct access to arts education. That included 71 artist residencies in Missoula schools.

Over the next two years, Spark! programming will expand to grades 9-12.

“It is inspiring to see the immense amount of growth that has occurred in arts education in Missoula thus far,” said Jackalynn Snow, director of Spark! “I am excited for the blossoming of Spark! that will occur over the next three years, and I am delighted that the Washington Foundation prioritizes arts education and offers continued support for this amazing work.”

“The Washington Foundation has been committed to this initiative from the start,” said Tom Bensen, chairman of the Spark! governing board and executive director of Arts Missoula. “Their support has been instrumental in the success of this program in just a few short years.”

In addition to the Washington Foundation, Spark! is supported financially by the Chekota Foundation, the Charles Engelhard Foundation, the Montana Arts Council, First Interstate Bank, MCPS, the University of Montana and the city of Missoula.

The program’s emphasis on arts integration with mainstream subjects is consistent with the arts education component of the Every Child Succeeds Act signed into law last December by President Obama.