The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has chosen Bethlehem as the 24th site—and the first in Pennsylvania—for its Ensuring the Arts for Any Given Child program. The primary goal of the program is “to assist communities in developing and implementing a plan for expanded arts education in their schools, ensuring access and equity for all students in grades K-8.”
Lehigh’s Zoellner Arts Center will serve as lead coordinator for the four-year collaboration, and dozens of community partners, including the Bethlehem Area School District (BASD), the Mayor’s Office, the United Way, ArtsQuest and Lehigh’s College of Education, will work together to develop a strategy for in-school arts education tailored to the needs of the Bethlehem community.
Jeanette McCune, Director of D.C. School and Community Initiatives at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, joined Bethlehem Mayor Robert Donchez, BASD Superintendent Joseph J. Roy, Zoellner Arts Center administrative director Andy Cassano and other community leaders at a public event on Sept. 20 at SteelStacks to announce the honor. Student musicians from BASD’s Liberty High School, Northeast Middle School and Farmersville Elementary School performed.
“This is a monumental occasion for Bethlehem, the first city in Pennsylvania to be awarded the privilege of being a part of this program,” Cassano said at the event. “It is also an incredible statement that this diverse group of organizations and their leadership will work together for the next four years in advancing arts education and arts in education for thousands of children in the Bethlehem Area School District, for their families, our city and our community in what we endeavor to become a series of sustainable, coordinated, collective impact programs for an entire generation.”
The Kennedy Center has provided the majority of the cost of the program, and Lehigh’s College of Education, Lehigh trustee Anne R. Kline ’81 and Geoffrey P. Pohanka, and the Pohanka Family Foundation provided funds that exceeded by more than 100 percent the required $25,000 local contribution.
Kline, who serves on two Kennedy Center boards, was thrilled to hear the news of Bethlehem's selection.
“When I heard the news that Bethlehem was selected as the 24th City for the Any Given Child grant, I screamed, ‘This is my trifecta: my hometown, my University and the Kennedy Center,’” she says. “Everyone is a winner, especially the students in Bethlehem who will have a chance to experience the arts in their classroom. Each of these students will now have the opportunity to see how the arts can truly transform their lives.”
The Any Given Child program includes three phases, and the Kennedy Center will provide support and guidance throughout. Phase one includes approximately nine months of strategic planning, including an audit of existing arts education resources, a needs assessment and data collection. A Community Arts Team (CAT) of community partners will then create a plan for how they will increase access to the arts for BASD K-8 students. In phase two, a committee will provide recommendations to BASD and local arts organizations, who will then implement the plan over the course of three years, utilizing all resources and reaching every child. In phase three, the community will work together to sustain and expand arts education.
Cassano, who spearheaded the efforts to become a site for Any Given Child, will lead Bethlehem's Community Arts Team and handle the behind-the-scenes work involved in moving forward. When he learned about the program a few years ago, he says, he knew it could be a valuable opportunity for the Lehigh Valley and Zoellner Arts Center as well.
“It became very apparent that this specific partnership was something that could benefit a wide range of people, not just the schools but the arts as well,” he says. “It [can also] position [Zoellner] Arts Center as a leader in advancing how the arts are used in our own community.”
Photos by Christa Neu