EdVestors Announces $485,000 in Arts Expansion Grants to Boston Public Schools

Research & Insights / 15 Years of BPS Arts Expansion: Reflections from Boston Public Schools Leaders and Educators

15 Years of BPS Arts Expansion: Reflections from Boston Public Schools Leaders and Educators

In 2009, EdVestors launched Boston Public Schools (BPS) Arts Expansion, bringing together local foundations, the school district,  arts organizations, higher education institutions and city government to create a coherent, sustainable approach to quality arts education for all BPS students. What was originally a three-year, $2.5 million effort is now in its 15th year, resulting in nearly 17,000 additional students annually now receiving arts education compared with 2009, and the number of BPS arts teachers nearly doubling. 

To commemorate this milestone, we have asked some of our collaborators from Boston Public Schools Allison Hramiec, Head of School at Boston Day and Evening Academy, Amy Wedge, Visual And Media Arts Content Specialist from the Visual and Performing Arts Department, and Colin O’Dwyer, Music Teacher at the James Otis Elementary School, to reflect on the strides we have made together to improve arts education. 

What has been the impact of BPS Arts Expansion for you/your organization?

Allison Hramiec: BPS Arts Expansion has enhanced the programming at BDEA. Not only has it made our space aesthetically beautiful with our students artwork on display, but for an alternative school, with limited resources it has exposed our students to opportunities that tap their artistic instincts and interests. Many of our students, disconnected and disengaged, have found their connection back to school through the different arts opportunities we were able to provide them. As a learning community, incorporating the arts through our partnership with EdVestors and the arts programming it has brought to our students, leverages our students creativity and academic engagement.

Amy Wedge: BPS Arts Expansion has been an invaluable part of my entire career in Boston Public Schools, first as an art teacher in a K-8 school and now in my role as the Visual and Media Arts Content Specialist in the BPS Arts Department. 

When most people think about BPS Arts Expansion, they think about the money; the grants. What is often neglected, however, is the impact it has on teacher leadership. My first interaction with Arts Expansion was as an Arts Liaison. As a new teacher, this was an opportunity not only to make connections with other arts colleagues throughout the district who would become lifelong personal friends, but also to dig deeper into resources available from the BPS Arts Department that I hadn’t previously known about; curriculum maps, PD and more. It also introduced me to the wealth of partnerships that existed within the City of Boston.

The amazing staff at EdVestors has also had a lasting impact on my personal professional development as a teacher and as a leader because of the personality and dedication they bring to the work. Each in their role has gone beyond to show support for the teachers, for the students, and for the Arts Department with warmth and encouragement and a willingness to ensure the arts succeed.  

Colin O’Dwyer: There was a grant that was given for East Boston [schools] to start a band program, [with instruments] like trumpet, trombone, clarinet, and flute. I grew up playing rock music with guitars and basses. I'd never played those instruments before. I said to Tony Beatrice [BPS Executive  Director for the Arts],  “Well, I can do it, but I'm going to need help.” I think between him, EdVestors, and [arts partner] ZUMIX, we got 90 instruments and started developing this band program. And then the New England Conversatory got involved. The Boston Philharmonic reached out. And now the Community Music Center of Boston as well. 

As you know, things can be like, “Hey, let's create this thing.” The amount of support that is needed for something like this to not just disappear is incredible. A music teacher can do only so much. But having all these outside partners, professionals, and college students that are studying these instruments able to come in [schools], while us not having to always find funds to support music, is incredible, right? Because then as long as we can keep the ball moving, we're already set up for next year.

What changes have you seen in arts education in BPS because of BPS Arts Expansion?

AH: I have seen the District make a deeper investment in arts because of BPS Arts Expansion. I think it has definitely prompted BPS to invest in more arts teachers and to ensure that more schools have arts programs, with full-time positions. It helped the district identify its shortfalls and then invest.

AW: When I moved into my current role within the BPS Arts Department I took with me all of the leadership skills I had learned, in good part because of Arts Expansion. In a different capacity, I'm now able to appreciate what an impact Arts Expansion has on a systems level. The Youth Arts Month Exhibition at City Hall is a testament to this work. At our 30th annual opening reception this March 2024, one attendee commented, “the art is REALLY good!” to which I responded, “Of course it is, because we have amazing, high quality art teachers.” This is true in large part because of the efforts of [BPS] Arts Expansion. 

Not only does the arts exist in every building, but the teachers are receiving high quality professional development, which they then bring back to their classrooms. The strength of the arts in BPS has VISIBLY grown over the past 15 years, not only in the amount and access of offerings across schools, but in the incredible quality of the programming that exists. The evidence graces the walls of City Hall every year. 

CO: I think the arts expansion is helping funds-wise, but also with visibility. When you're not living in isolation, as a school, and you're connected to the other schools and the arts specialists near you, and you are able to collaborate. The East Boston Music Collective is able to get together and brainstorm about what’s going to be happening [in music education in East Boston]. There’s professional development being offered too.

What are your hopes and dreams for the future of arts education in BPS?

AH: My hope is that the arts could be infused into all of our academic programs. I think about science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) when I think about our academic program. We have seen first hand that when arts is incorporated into the academic learning experience, student engagement and achievement rises. How might this be more intentionally designed for educators?

AW: My wish for the future of arts education in BPS is that more arts teachers will be able to see the value they provide in their schools and in the district and that they are inspired to become leaders and champions for the arts as I was inspired myself. When teachers feel valued, it solidifies their dedication. Now that Arts Expansion has achieved the goal of ensuring arts in every building, I hope we might equally invest in the cultivation and celebration of our amazing arts educators- celebrating their value and contributions to our BPS community. 

CO: You have to have really strong arts professionals and artists that are also teachers in order for them to be passionate enough to want to get together with their colleagues in an area. The City [of Boston] and EdVestors have to be there standing and supporting the endeavor and making the connections. And the many great colleges here like Berklee -  the more that they're involved, the more that this can be successful. I hope that can keep being done.

Read the reflections of community and arts education leaders and local arts organization partners on BPS Arts Expansion’s accomplishments.