For the past several years, Detroit Public Schools has been working to keep arts education programs afloat amidst statewide budget cuts. In our Partners in Arts series, Model D and InspirED Michigan are exploring how partnerships with nonprofits throughout Detroit are ensuring DPS students have access to the arts and are experiencing the impact of music, dance, theater and more in their lives.
Students strum their imaginary cellos and violins, keeping in time with the sea of concentrated Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians. As the professional violinists pluck their staccato notes, children throughout Detroit are becoming mesmerized by classical music.
While some children may have the pleasure of hearing these magnificent notes in Orchestra Hall, others are watching the symphony perform from the comfort of their classrooms.
"My students come from a very economically challenged background and they do not listen to this type of music other than at school with their music teacher. They were so engaged, they gave a standing ovation to the screen at the end of the performance. They forgot it was a webcast, and mentally they were in Orchestra Hall. During the performance, there were students 'conducting' and playing pretend instruments along."
-- Detroit teacher who viewed the Detroit Symphony Orchestra's live Educational Concert Series webcast with students
But the DSO is not setting up their chairs and stands in elementary school classrooms. Instead, students are experiencing classical music through the orchestra's Educational Concert Series webcast program. The ECS webcasts provide students with an opportunity to "attend" the orchestra without leaving their desks.
According to the DSO, the benefits of the webcast program reach even beyond southeast Michigan, giving educators throughout the state the ability to show the ECS webcast in their classrooms.
Teachers are able to stream the DSO performances free of charge, making ECS webcasts an appealing option amid declines in funding for arts-based curricula. While widespread media attention to cuts to arts programs in Detroit and beyond consistently shines a spotlight on the decline in children's access to arts education, the DSO has stepped up to become an important resource within some schools by supplementing arts education with its webcasts.
"We hear often how ECS [an 80-year-old program] affected local leaders by exposing them to orchestral music for the first time," Emily Lamoreaux, DSO's Wu family director of education explains. "Since the webcast product is in its infancy, effects of that magnitude lie in the future, however one need only witness the joy in a classroom full of elementary students in an underserved Detroit neighborhood to be assured that the benefits are real and imminent."
"I thought the webcast was an excellent way to bring the DSO to students who might never get to see it."
-- Detroit teacher
Working in collaboration with Detroit Public Schools, the district played a heavy role in the development of the DSO's educational resources and outreach efforts. DPS and the DSO worked together to ensure the webcast product was logistically viable in DPS classrooms, as well as applicable to standard classroom environments.
Though the DSO may be in the backyard of many DPS students, facilitating students' first classical music experiences remains a top priority for both organizations.
"DPS enthusiastically embraced this product and opened their classrooms to us, allowing the first webcast to hit the ground running with some 27,000 student viewers in the city of Detroit alone," says Lamoreaux.
"I learned how you can get inspired by different types of things to make music. I learned a lot. I have never seen an orchestra, how you mix techno beats with the orchestra. That was really cool."
-- 8th grade Detroit Public Schools student
Budget cuts to DPS's arts programs have been brutal, in some cases forcing the district to choose between furthering arts programs and cutting funding for teachers and school supplies. And it's not just a Detroit problem.
Michigan's Creative Many arts advocacy group estimates that 108,000 students statewide attend school each day without any type of arts education, despite the documented benefits, which include heightened academic performance in all other areas.
The DSO is looking to combat this trend in its own way with the webcast program, which it hopes will expose Detroits students and teachers to the power of performance.
As the program finds its footing, Lamoreaux hopes to garner an accessible and eye-opening experience for a growing audience of students -- students who may be influenced to play their own violins and cellos in the future.
"The exposure to engaging musical experiences, combined with hands-on instruction, has the power to illuminate new pathways of critical thinking and expose young minds to new ideas," Lamoreaux says.
This piece was made possible through a partnership with InspirED Michigan, a project of the Michigan Public Schools Partnership. MPSP is a coalition of more than 50 education-related organizations, school districts and individuals committed to promoting the good news about Michigan public schools. To subscribe to the monthly e-newsletter, click here.
All photos by Doug Coombe.