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An Arts Festival in Public Schools

February 14, 2013

The San Francisco Unified School District Arts Festival runs from March 2 to 10 at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, and is focused on visual, literary, media, and performing arts. Fifty artistic groups from San Francisco public schools will attend. About half are devoted to music. The festival, now in its 27th year, grew out of an effort by the San Francisco Arts Commission, but was eventually taken over by the school district.

We spoke with Catherine Theilen-Burke, who has organized the festival for the last 18 years and is a visual arts teacher. “It’s all a way to say to parents in the city, please consider the educational opportunities in public schools and while you may have heard about the drastic cutbacks that have been made in California public schools, San Francisco has done an amazing job of keeping something of the arts in schools.

Because of Proposition H, and other financial sources, there are now 51 ‘itinerant’ teachers, of which 16 are music teachers. One day every week, a music teacher comes to each of the 72 elementary schools in the city and offers an instrumental music program to interested students. Some instruments are provided for free; others are available to rent.

Theilen-Burke added, “And of course this is part of becoming employable. Despite all these drastic cutbacks in programs, and no question that the arts are still marginalized in many places, I think things are on the upswing, because more and more people in education, in business, and in government recognize that for students to be qualified for jobs in the 21st Century they must develop an ability to be creative and a sense of creativity.”

The event schedule for the arts festival has yet to be finalized; we will include it in next week’s column. Meantime, more information is available here.

Mark MacNamara, a San Francisco-based journalist, has written for such publications as Nautilus, Salon, the Stanford Social Innovation Review, and Vanity Fair.  Recent pieces for San Francisco Classical Voice include profiles of San Francisco Symphony Executive Director Brent Assink, and the great violinist, Midori; along with essays on Teddy Abrams’s effort to build political bridges with music and Philip Glass’s dream to build a cultural center on the Pacific Coast.