Chicago, Chicago

by Jini Stolk

Some things make you want to pack up and move. For me, it was the news that Toronto’s Sister City (and my old stomping ground) Chicago, has invested $1 million to implement the first Arts Education Plan for Chicago Public Schools – with the goal of ensuring that all students receive high-quality arts education.

Tom Wolf of Wolf/Brown was the first to let me know that Mayor Rahm Emanuel had pledged to make the arts part of Chicago schools’ core school curriculum and my friend Shana Hillman sent me the details.

This simple goal – that ALL students receive HIGH-QUALITY arts education – is the primary raison d’etre of the PAONE/Creative Trust Arts Education Constellations. Instead, we recently bit our fingernails while the Toronto District School Board debated removing $2 million from our schools’ instrumental music programs: this would have meant the loss of 23 part-time music instructors who teach recorder, Orff and vocal music to Grades 1 to 6, and reduced the amount of time other music instructors would teach strings, band and steel pan programs for Grades 5 to 8.

Thankfully, the final budget was passed without these cuts but come on: there is a wealth, a mountain, of information on the benefits of arts education to children’s learning and development and future success. Although we can’t expect progressive intervention from the City of Toronto at this point, wouldn’t this be a high impact and low cost initiative for the Province of Ontario to make?

It’s interesting to know what motivated Mayor Rahm Emanuel to make such a meaningful investment. It turns out that he was a serious dance student and believes in the importance of the arts in human development. Do I need to note that an important part of Emanuel’s career preparation for senior national and municipal leadership was… dance training?

Let’s begin talking to the Province of Ontario about why Toronto should be a proud “Second City,” offering the same opportunities to our students as Chicago.

And shall we start working now to ensure that arts, education and community development leaders are part of Toronto’s next trade delegation to that city?

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