Arts Access and Learning

Why We Focus on Arts Access and Learning

The learning opportunities that come from a deep participation in the arts are vast and far-reaching. The arts offer students new ways to express themselves, work together and explore the world around them. Yet opportunities for Chicago’s students to participate in the arts vary greatly across the city. This matters because when students experience and create music, art, dance and theater, not only do their test scores climb, they also build skills – social, emotional and artistic – that will serve them throughout their lives. Bringing arts into the classroom can strengthen students’ connections to their classmates, schools and communities. This is especially true for students from disinvested communities, learners with diverse needs and students who have experienced trauma.

Our Approach

Polk Bros. Foundation is focused on improving the quality of life – and the quality of lives – in Chicago. To achieve this goal, the arts must play a role. We support efforts to bring ongoing arts learning into Chicago’s public school classrooms, and programs that give public school students the chance to pursue their own artistic interests more deeply through out-of-school programs. This area of our grantmaking is informed by what Chicago residents – including parents, educators and artists – have said they need most, and is aligned with Chicago Public Schools’ Arts Education Plan.

What We Support

To increase the number of Chicago public school students who participate deeply in the arts, Polk Bros. Foundation supports school-based arts education programs and community-based arts instruction for youth.

School-Based Programs
When teachers and artists partner to create arts-infused learning opportunities in classrooms, students become more engaged and excited about learning. They grow academically, artistically, socially and emotionally. We support programs focused on:

  • Arts instruction, in which artists and teachers partner to help students learn an art form and engage in an extended creative process.
  • Arts integration, in which artists and teachers partner to enliven classroom instruction and improve academic outcomes.
  • Teacher professional development that builds teacher effectiveness in arts education, especially programs that provide ongoing feedback, are relevant to each teacher’s classroom and create peer networks involving multiple teachers from the same school.
  • Systems improvement and innovation that increases arts education resources, improves policies and service delivery, and leads to better student outcomes system-wide.

  • Explore our School-Based Program Area Guide
Community-Based Programs
Youth involved in more advanced and ongoing arts learning opportunities develop improved communication, collaboration, critical-thinking and technical skills and expand their capacity for creativity and self-expression. We support programs focused on:

  • Creative youth development that offers access to advanced arts instruction during out-of-school time for vulnerable youth. These programs often also help youth understand potential pathways into a professional life in the arts.

  • Explore our Community-Based Program Area Guide

Learn How to Apply

Explore our Current Grantmaking