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Anonymous Donor Launches $1 Million Austin Creative Classroom Fund to Expand Arts Opportunities for AISD Students

Austin, Texas–A local mystery donor has committed $1 million to support the development of arts-rich schools and expand creative learning opportunities for students throughout the Austin Independent School District.

Today, Austin arts leader mindPOP announced the launch of the Austin Creative Classroom Fund, which will strengthen students' access to outstanding arts education by providing teachers with resources to develop successful, creative learning projects that may be replicated across the district. The fund is designed to help teachers meet their instructional goals through the arts, support innovative ideas and practices and increase the breadth and depth of creative opportunities for students.

"As a leader in the creative industries, the donor believes our schools should help students develop their creative and innovative skills and wanted to support AISD's commitment to creative learning," Brent Hasty, mindPOP's executive director, said of the donor who has requested to remain anonymous. "With the ongoing state education cuts, this fund will help ensure all Austin students have access to outstanding creative arts programs, from the acclaimed McCallum High School Fine Arts Academy to elementary schools with the highest needs, in communities where many of the families live in poverty."

For the initial 2012-13 cycle, funding priority will be given to faculty and staff members at the Fine Arts Academies at McCallum High School and Lamar Middle School and any AISD elementary school where more than 60 percent of students are qualified for the free and reduced lunch program.

"The creation of the fund is a call to action to create an arts-rich environment for all students," Hasty said, adding that he hopes this gift will inspire similar support from other Central Texas businesses, especially those engaged in the creative and technology industries.

"We're thrilled and grateful to this anonymous donor for investing in AISD and Austin's creative future, especially given the well-documented link between an arts-rich education and high academic achievement for all students," AISD Superintendent Meria Carstarphen said.

James Catterall's 12-year study of data from the National Educational Longitudinal Survey has revealed that students involved in the arts performed better on standardized tests and maintained higher grades, regardless of their socio-economic status.

The researcher found that students from low-income communities who attended arts-rich campuses routinely outperformed their peers at arts-poor campuses. They also were more than twice as likely to attend college, even if they did not directly participate in fine arts classes. The study found the same positive effects held true for English language learners, which is an especially important and relevant finding for Austin because the district's student population has become increasingly diverse, Carstarphen said.

The fund builds on the prestigious Any Given Child designation Austin earned earlier this year from the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. This year-long arts planning process, led by the Kennedy Center, includes extensive research to identify the gaps in access and equity to arts education, followed by the creation of an affordable model that combines the resources of the school district, the City of Austin, local arts organizations and the Kennedy Center to meet students' needs.

"The donor has been impressed with the Kennedy Center's Any Given Child process," Hasty said. "Knowing a solid plan will be in place reinforced their confidence that their investment would be maximized to the fullest extent for Austin students."

The City of Austin, a lead partner in the Kennedy Center's Any Given Child initiative, applauds the generosity of the donor.

"The creative sector has grown 25 percent during the past five years and generates more than $4.35 billion in economic activity. We applaud this leader in the creative industry for giving back to the community and to our schools," Mayor Lee Leffingwell said.

The city plays an important role in ensuring students have opportunities to expand their creative capacity beyond the classroom. The Any Given Child initiative will provide a coordinated plan to ensure all young people benefit from the academic and creative experiences that may lead to one of the 49,000 permanent jobs in the creative sector in Austin.

"Austin is poised to serve as a national model for how an urban district can meet the needs of all of its students," Barbara Shepherd, director of national partnerships at the Kennedy Center, said.

The commitment from school, arts and city leaders will position Austin to become a national model for how an urban school district can use the arts and creativity to engage students, increase academic achievement and prepare students for the workforce.

"The donor recognizes the creative community must join forces with our schools and our city if we are to make certain all our students have the same opportunities to succeed," Hasty said, explaining the fund is intended to become a sustainable community-wide effort in the future and expects to gain support from other business and community partners.

The donor has committed $1 million in seed money to be contributed in $250,000 installments during the first four years of the fund. "We have an incredible opportunity to make Austin the Creative Capital of the World, by aligning our schools, our community centers, our arts organizations and the people of Austin behind the same goal," Hasty said.

"Creativity and innovation are essential skills for success in the 21st century," Hasty said. "Young people comprise 23 percent of the Austin community. We each have to do our part to see that every child is prepared to succeed."