Studio to Schools Reflection #8                        10/31/16
Three Rivers/Illinois Valley 

When you think about how you will sustain your project (or its most essential components), what are your greatest strengths or assets? How can you leverage those strengths or assets going forward?

1. Our Partners

  • Three Rivers School District has been extremely generous and cooperative.  Because of their work we share the use of the activity busses for student transportation (an essential service) and our participants have the opportunity to eat a free hot meal after school.  As the program moves forward, these are services that will remain in use by other after school activities and we can continue to leverage them.  Also, we have been granted use of the cafeteria/stage so that we can rehearse where we perform.  This is a luxury in the theatre world.  This year we gained a new Superintendent in the district who has lived in our valley for many years.  He understands the quirks and idiosyncrasies of our valley and looks to move our programs forward.
  • Illinois Valley Community Development Organization (IVCDO) views our program as a contribution to community development.  Because we write our own valley-centric performances, we participate with our community in a more intimate way than if we had put on My Fair Lady.  Because our participants are involved in the writing, we share the often unheard/underrepresented voice of our youth.  In a past performance that included several pieces about feeling unsafe, a local business owner confessed she knew that public safety was a big issue in our community, but it wasn’t until she saw it dramatized by the youth participants that she was moved into the action of contributing to public safety.   In IVCDO’s 22+ years of service, they have contributed to countless successes in businesses and nonprofits in our valley.  They have experience working with Arts Programs that have grown into their own nonprofits.  They have enormous experience raising funds and are willing to share that knowledge.  They hold the key to reaching the “right person” for financial asks and their fiscal sponsorship capacity is great. We value our relationship with IVCDO and can leverage their relationships with large funders and local initiatives.
  • Dancefarm holds the guide to successful performing arts programming in schools.  Because of the years of experience dancefarm had coming into this project, we have been able to quickly stabilize our programming, use our budget wisely, and anticipate our sustainability needs.  We leverage dancefarm by continuing to train teachers in their pedagogy and learn from their experience running a successful arts nonprofit.

2. Understanding of Arts Integration

  • Because our partner dancefarm had a system for Arts Integration, we have studied it and adapted it into one of our strengths.  From conversations with school administration and certified teachers, there is interest in sharing this pedagogy so that it can be explored in any classroom at any time.  Also, during conversations with other Studio to School projects, we have realized that others are struggling with how to do this work.  We are developing a program to train teachers in simple Arts Integration techniques that they could immediately take back and use in their classrooms.  With proper marketing and word of mouth, this training could be a path to sustainability.  There are several income streams that could be developed.  Each training workshop fee would have a portion dedicated back into the RiverStars fund. Training materials could be published and sold.  Online videos could be created and monetized.

3. We’re Popular

  • Our participation is spectacular.  At the beginning of our third year we are teaching classes that are over our preferred capacity.  It must be stated that after school, non-sports related programing in our community is extremely challenging to attract and retain students.  Our program has a great record of ongoing participation.  Our shows are also becoming increasingly attended.  Last year several performances had standing room only.  We have been invited to perform in several community fundraisers and events.  The newspapers write articles and publish pictures.  Because we are popular and our participant numbers are up, donors are more willing to invest.  The competition for a spot encourages the participants to work harder, behave better, and practice more.

When you think about how you will sustain your work (or its most essential components), what are your greatest challenges? How might you work to overcome those challenges?

1. Situational/Generational Poverty

  • Evergreen Elementary school reports over 9% of students qualify as homeless under the McKinney-Vento Education of Homeless Children and Youth Assistance Act and over 12% of our high school students are not adequately sheltered.  With this grim statistic and many more pointing toward widespread situational/generational poverty in our community, we know that the bulk of our funding will not be coming from our community or the families of our participants.  We strive to make our program accessible to all.  This means: participation is free.  Food and transportation is provided.  Performances are free or “Pay what you Can.”  In past years, we have provided tee shirts and sweatpants as uniforms that the participants cherish and wear like a badge of honor.  We are well integrated into the school and when reporting or referral to the counselor/student advocate is needed, it is done with a warm handoff and check-ins later.  We know that most of our income for this program will be coming from grants.  However…

2. Grants are Tricky

  • Our nonprofit partner, IVCDO, is a Community Development organization rather than strictly an arts organization.  The simple wording of their mission could exclude us for applying for some grants. Also, many grants do not allow applications with a fiscal sponsorship. Other than finding the right foundation to ask, this challenge is tricky.  We don’t believe we should form our own arts nonprofit at this time as there are around 40 nonprofits in the Illinois Valley.  The capacity needed to run a nonprofit is not what we are interested in pursuing.  There are some established arts nonprofits that we could explore partnering with in the future.
  • Grant funding is often only for small, one year chunks.  This requires constant researching and writing when our team should be focusing on programing and serving the participants. Our hope is that grantors begin to look at longer term funding in quality programing, like OCF has done with Studio to School.  Truly investing in communities, rather than meager, partial amounts would be ideal.  This advocacy is being spread by our partner, IVCDO and we hope to support that message by being a great example of what that kind of ongoing funding can accomplish.
  • Our community is frequently awarded the 21st Century Federal Grant for after school programming.  It should be available to renew in our community in the next 2 years.  We plan to convince the superintendent that our well established program is an ideal candidate for a chunk of that funding.  With our experience managing the Studio to School grant, we could even offer to effectively manage the grant.

3. Traditional Fundraisers Aren’t Sustainable

  • They zap energy from artistic staff and take away from programing.  We are looking into new fundraising tactics that require little energy from the artistic staff after they are established.  (See our notes in the Sustainability Plan on Change up for Kids and Drive for 5).