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Painting the Future: XQ Super School Finalist Envisions Partnerships with Professionals
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Arts education programs throughout the country have waned in the wake of budget cuts and a call for greater focus on STEM subjects. Despite it being in violation of some state laws, many students still don’t have access to arts education. Most of the schools that have a lack of arts programming are in high-poverty areas, serving students who arguably need it the most.
In response to this, Cynthia Campoy Brophy founded artworxLA (formerly The HeArt Project) in 1992 to address the significant lack of arts education programs for students in Los Angeles.
Since its inception, artworxLA has worked with over 12,000 students at 50 alternative education sites in eight school districts in the greater Los Angeles region. The program works with the Los Angeles County Office of Education to exclusively serve students ages 14-18 who are at high risk of dropping out of high school. The program supports and empowers these students to achieve new, positive identities – high school graduate, college student, and community leader – through art.
Now, as a top 50 finalist in the XQ Super School Project, artworxLA is validated in their work and plans on using their success to make big changes to the education landscape. We recently sat down with Cynthia to learn more about her organization, her involvement with the XQ Super School Project, and her thoughts on the future of education.
 
 
NAC’s Michael Pinto and Lauren Scranton interviewed Cynthia Campoy Brophy, founder and executive director of artworxLA, on her team’s submission to the XQ Super School Project, a contest to redesign the high school experience. The winning teams will have access to $50 million to turn their ideas into a reality.
NAC: Congratulations on being selected as a finalist for the XQ Super School Project funded by Lauren Powell Jobs [Steve Jobs’ widow]. What drew you to this project?
Campoy Brophy: About five years ago we started the Hollywood Media Arts Academy where the students are taking art classes 10 hours a week while complementing their other academic subjects. We’ve had terrific results. This can be a very fluid population and our retention rate has improved from 32 percent to 81 percent. There was a time we had a waiting list, where we were enrolled at capacity, and we tripled the number of graduates. We were inspired by the successful role the arts can play in strengthening the creative culture of a school, of really improving student engagement across the board, and by the potential to create new pathways to college and career. In Los Angeles one in seven jobs is in a creative industry. So before XQ we started a plan to open five arts academies. Each one will be aligned with one of the creative industries in L.A. Each will have this creative career focus but be a full continuation high school. We were already on the pathway to execute this vision and the XQ project came along. So apparently over 700 applications were submitted and we’re in the top 50. No matter what happens, it feels like our idea has been validated and we’re on to something.
 
artworxLA is one of 50 XQ Super School Project finalists (published by Paul Ulukpo July 26, 2016).
 
What does it mean to have gotten this far in the XQ competition? How has this process helped your longer-term visioning?
It’s helping us really think about a model of partnership. We really believe that changing the conversation about high school can’t be done alone. It takes partnership, and yet partnerships are challenging. So how can we really use this to inform that conversation—what is a sustainable partnership that feels equal?
And just the fact that the arts have struggled for many years to be viewed as integral and not extracurricular, and when we built the Hollywood Media Arts Academy we really saw the power of the arts to engage and inspire. So to now be a part of this national conversation with the arts front and center is really exciting.
Seems like part of the goal of XQ is to put out models that could transform education—now, having the validation, what should mainstream education be learning when looking at a program like yours? How should education be evolving in response to what’s being produced through the competition?
We’re focused on the hardest to reach population and the range of opportunities that exist for our students has gotten so narrow. We need to make sure that the education they receive is more holistic. We also live in this really creative community (Los Angeles), so how do you make sure creativity is infused in the structure of education so that teachers are creatively inspired as well as students? How do we bring in creative industry partners to inform our curriculum to keep content relevant and linked to real world? How can these schools be more community centered? Creativity, connection, relevance—all of these are the elements that are essential to moving education forward.
Another thing is the role of the teaching artist in the classroom. To give an example, if we’re teaching music, we’ve seen it’s really effective to have the students learn from a professional working artist rather than trying to train an educator to keep up with the tools that are in the workplace today. Our partnership structure ensures that there’s space for professionals to come in to the classroom and share their knowledge.
It’s about having a complementary teaching style between the educator and the professional that provides a different level of inspiration for the kids. How do you keep up with your industry and keep curriculum in the classroom relevant? The professional tools are updated so quickly, meaning that the professional artists are going to be a great asset for the classroom teacher.
In architecture schools today, there’s a similar challenge within programs where a handful of faculty are career academics, and another handful of faculty are primarily practitioners. It’s just inspiring when you talk about the value of the professional and the educator.
There’s a place for integration. I think both are important.
 
 
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