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Arts grant brings history to Mattapan

Sandra Larson | 2/1/2011, 5:59 p.m.

Arts instruction is by no means absent in Boston schools, but it is uneven, according to a detailed survey conducted in 2009 by the Arts Expansion Initiative team. The survey showed that some schools have art or music teachers on staff, some have outside partners coming in, some have both, and others offer no arts at all.

“When we looked at the data, the glass was half-full,” said Marinell Rousmaniere, the Arts Expansion Initiative project director at EdVestors. “There was arts, but the equity was random. We wanted to move the needle in grades K-8 so that 100 percent of students would receive weekly yearlong arts instruction.” The initiative is also working to expand offerings at the high school level, she said.

The in-school “Emancipation Chronicles” performance included spoken word pieces written by the students as well as songs from “Treemonisha” and other songs such as “Amazing Grace” and “Ease on Down the Road,” from the musical “The Wiz.”

To Martinborough, the merging of music and history teaching is natural, and even necessary.

“Each piece of music comes from the experience of a particular time and place,” he said. “[For example], you’re not going to be able to sing Bach and discover what Bach means until you know where he lived and what he was struggling against, and what was going on politically at the time. You can never be the best artist you can be without understanding the time and place.”

He found that helping these middle-schoolers sink their teeth into the amendments felt almost more important than teaching the opera.

“Because they will always have an opportunity to sing,” he said, “but they won’t always have the opportunity for someone to say to them, really dig down deep and discover what your rights are.”