The arts and the schools in Arlington County have a creative partnership probably equal to any in the nation, according to Kitty Porterfield, staff coordinator for the Humanities Project in elementary grades.
All of Arlington's 25 elementary schools participate in the artists-in-the-schools project, funded primarily by $20,000 from the school board. Most of the county's 10,000 elementary students were involved in 311 artists workshops and 114 performances last year, Porterfield said.
By comparison, a similar but smaller concerts-in-the-schools program in Fairfax serves at least 122 elementary schools with no official county backing at all, said Susan Kraft, volunteer scheduler for school performances.
In 1976-77, only 56 concerts were scheduled in 27 elementary schools through the Fairfax County Council of the Arts, a community-based organization. Fairfax has nearly 67,000 elementary students.
Concerts usually are paid for by school PTA organizations.
"It's been an uphill battle all the way. We work on a one-to-one basis in schools, through the principal or the PTA. We have no support whatsoever from the school system," Kraft said.
The commitment in Arlington descends directly from a 1973-74 statement of goals by the school board.
"We perceive a felt need to increase opportunities for students to grow in their capacity for appreciating beauty and man's creative impulse and to understand their importance in daily living," the statement said.
Original public school funding of $10,000 was matched by a $10,000 grant from the Service League of Northern Virginia for the Humanities Project. Since then, major school board funding has been supported annually by about $5,000 in recreation funds, as well as similar grants from the Virginia Commission of the Arts and Humanities.
The project is administered by the performing arts section of the recreation division, but Service League volunteers still contribute to it.
Among the artists participating in the Arlington project is Craig Babcock, a professional pantomimist who performs and teaches workshops for both Arlington and Fairfax. He is one of an increasing number of performers and visual artists working professionally at the community level.
"I like to mix performing and teaching. Sharing my art form and teaching others how to do it is good for me creatively," the 32-year-old performer explained.
Fourteen individual artists and performing groups currently take part in the Arlington project. Art forms include dance, drama, mime, music, opera, poetry, pottery making, puppetry, sculpture, spinning and weaving. Fairfax has 28 participants covering about the same areas (except for the applied arts) in its seven-year-old program.
Both counties offer performances as well as workshops. Participants learn an art form in addition to discussing it and watching it being performed.
Arlington's project was given new prominence this year, when a $10,000 grant was awarded by the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare for a pilot program "to integrate the arts and the social studies," Porterfield reported.
This project will train teachers "to use the arts in teaching cognitive skills," she said. "Our artists will spend one whole year at Nottingham Elementary School, working with its 22 teachers to encourage and develop use of the arts in the mainstream of the curriculum."