As it expands to all 10 elementary schools in the Santa Barbara Unified School District, the Incredible Children’s Art Network (iCAN) is also taking a giant step back from its financial support of the distinguished visual arts program it launched, grew, and sustained for 10 years entirely through private funding. Starting this fall, iCAN caps its monetary contribution at $250,000 as the district commits $550,000 to take the reins of providing 50 minutes of art class to some 4,500 students each week, up from 3,000 across seven schools now. “This is a huge leap forward for Santa Barbara Unified to make this commitment,” said iCAN Executive Director Jeffry Walker.
Though the district will hit the ground running with $200,000 worth of easels, drying racks, kilns, and various supplies, there is concern that the overarching mission built into the program through the iCAN name will slowly vanish. “I suggest strongly that the district come up with a new name” to help maintain program cohesiveness district-wide, said Ed Heron of the five-member school board. “What we don’t want is 10 separate programs at 10 separate schools with 10 separate principals.”
Staffing is another concern. Since its inception, iCAN has hired, trained, and paid its own teachers and teaching assistants; there are now eight of each. While the iCAN teachers are welcome to apply to get their jobs back for the fall, the district, bound by fair-employment practices, cannot guarantee them positions. Nor can the district afford to hire assistants, according to Heron. This brings up the issue of fairness, according to boardmember Monique Limón, who explained at last week’s board meeting that certain elementary schools have fundraising advantages over others and could more easily bring in assistants and pay for art supplies. Limón said she wants “equity in the future for all our sites.”
“We’ll be working closely with the district to make sure [the program’s] high standards are met,” Walker said, adding that iCAN “is edging out of direct delivery” and shifting to more advocacy and policy efforts countywide.