Project Co-Arts began in 1991 and completed its work in 1996.
At the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild in Pittsburgh, Bill Strickland not only offers inner city teenagers apprentice-style training in photography and ceramics, but also helps them apply and get into college. At Plaza de la Raza in East Los Angeles, Gema Sandoval teaches students traditional Mexican art forms like ballet folklorico (folk dance) and migajon (sculpture) to help them build self-esteem and develop a keener understanding of their cultural identity. At MollyOlga Neighborhood Art Classes in Buffalo, Molly Bethel and Olga Lownie offer free painting and drawing classes so that students of all ages can acquire visual arts skills, regardless of their income. Across the country, hundreds of community art centers like these--many in economically disadvantaged communities--are using arts education to attain goals that range from professional training to better cross-cultural understanding.
Project Co-Arts has developed a framework that will enable community art centers and other educational institutions to document and assess for themselves their educational effectiveness, whatever their mission may be. Based on rigorous study of hundreds of community art centers around the country, this framework is designed to help administrators make thoughtful decisions as they attempt to offer quality education, often on a shoestring budget. The Co-Arts Assessment Plan guides educators in an ongoing process of self-examination through "assessment forums" and documents the process with an "organizational processfolio," which may include material like tape-recorded interviews, correspondence with parents, memos from staff members, tabulations of enrollment in individual classes, and student work.
To formulate this self-assessment tool, Co-Arts researchers made numerous site visits and analyzed results from questionnaires and phone interviews completed by hundreds of centers around the country. They wrote thirty sketches and six detailed portraits of educationally effective community art centers.
In the second phase of the project, Co-Arts worked with selected community art centers around the country to implement and test the assessment plan and determine how organizational processfolios could best be incorporated. The group was committed to sharing the results of this work with in-school educators and funders of arts programs. Co-Arts also received a training grant to help The Network, a research laboratory in Andover, Massachusetts, investigate whether the assessment plan could be used in a non-arts setting. The Network adapted the plan to evaluate and document the work of PRISM, a bilingual program that promotes language acquisition through inquiry-based science learning.
Project Co-Arts maintained a clearinghouse for resources and information regarding the inspirational field of out-of-school, community-based arts education. It produced a database with information about more than 500 U.S. community art centers, files of materials from more than 300 of these centers, and a library of relevant books and articles.