Local philanthropist, Jim Kearns, has started on a mission to ensure that all children in the Santa Barbara public school system have access to high quality arts programs because he sees the correlation between arts education and the individual success of each child. With the support of others who share this passion, Jim established The Incredible Children’s Art Network (ICAN).
ICAN was established one year ago under the belief that all young people deserve access to quality arts learning opportunities that can be crucial to a child’s social, emotional, and intellectual development. The mission of the organization is to create transformational opportunities by providing quality arts experiences for children, particularly those least likely to receive them.
Today, ICAN is in five Santa Barbara public elementary schools, working with over 2,200 children, ranging from kindergarten to sixth grade. In addition to a year-round visual arts program, ICAN is piloting a music program inspired by Venezuela’s renowned El Sistema model. This intensive afterschool program currently serves 75 students at Franklin Elementary School.
ICAN programs are based on the best national and international research available, continuing to prove that art does have the ability to change lives. Focusing on assessment, ICAN uses detailed criteria to measure the development of dispositions or mental habits such as persistence, creativity, and self-expression. These are some of the many skills essential to becoming successful and productive citizens in our community. Key elements of the program include highly qualified, effective teachers; regularly scheduled class periods for art; authentic space and materials; professional development opportunities that inspire teachers’ personal growth and contribute to the vitality of the program as a whole; and the active support of parents, school officials, interested individuals, and community organizations. In addition, to celebrate the children as artists, their work is regularly displayed at school and in the community through exhibits held in local libraries, museums, galleries, government offices, and businesses.
“At a recent large, community-based art show, I saw a young boy standing next to his painting the entire evening. He did this because he wanted everyone to know that this was his artwork and was so proud of the painting he had made,” said Amy Schneider, executive director of ICAN. “It is our hope that all of the ICAN children will feel a sense of accomplishment that will carry into other areas of their lives in the form of increased confidence and engagement with the world.”
As ICAN continues to grow, positive results affirm the impact of this initiative. Harding Elementary School Principal, Sally Kingston, summarized the need for ICAN and similar initiatives in schools. “Reinventing arts education is essential just as creativity and knowledge are essential to a successful future,” she said. “Students with the highest needs are often the least likely to have access to arts programs. The only way to change the future is to invest in our children.”
Starting as one man’s vision, ICAN continues to grow and will need community support to sustain and expand its programs. ICAN’s success will be the result of our community’s interest and investment in our children’s arts education and growth as future citizens of this county.