Independent study proposal

Title: Socioeconomic Barriers and Arts Inequality

Name: Anji Sipkins-Chenn

The faculty advisor’s name: Mrs. McDonald

Driving questions:

  • What opportunities are available in our community for children at the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum to learn dance?
  • What barriers do children and families face when seeking out fine arts programs?
  • How can we as a community combat inequality within the arts?

Preliminary list of resources and activities 

During the first semester of my study, I would like to focus on researching and gaining experience within the community. I will be consulting a variety of academic resources such as articles and journals written about arts inequality. Some resources I would like to read include Examining Inequality in the Arts by Patrick Kabanda, Social Inequality and the Arts by Judith R. Blau, and Representing and Challenging Inequality through the Arts by Mike van Graan. I would read these resources during my September research period. I would also like to look into interviewing people involved in existing arts programs targeted toward underserved communities, such as Kidznotes, or people who teach at dance studios, such as Barriskill or BSCH. I would conduct these interviews during my October research period. Then in November and December, I  would like to explore shadowing or intern positions at existing community arts programs. For example, I would like to get involved with the Durham Arts Council and see if I can shadow, intern, teach classes, or work to write grants for them. I also plan to look into the Skjaja fund, which is an existing organization that grants money to students so that they can pay for arts courses, such as dance lessons. I could partner with them to gain experience in grant writing. Furthermore, I could look into partnering with Student U to expand their existing arts program and potentially teach a class. Through this work, I can gain experience with local community arts programs and learn more about the roles and responsibilities that come with running an arts program.

I would like to continue this study into the second semester and I would like to create my own free student-led dance program as my final project. I would use the knowledge I gained during the first semester of research and work in the community to shape my program off of. One idea I came up with this summer was to host classes at DA. I would love to be able to use the dance room at the Middle School to offer these demo classes because it is a large space with great resources (ie: barres, yoga mats, mirrors, etc.). Therefore, I spoke to various people in the DA community over the summer to see if this would be possible. I was able to speak with and secure permissions for running the program at DA from Ms. McDonald, Ms. Kantz, Mr. Benson, Mr. Cleary, and Mr. Wilson. If I piloted this program at DA I would also like to speak to Ms. Sullivan, Mr. Gilson, Elliot Turnbull, Ms. Reed, and Ms. Babwah. However, since transportation to DA could be difficult to organize, another option would be to hold the programs on weekends at community centers in Durham. This would enable me to hold classes in more familiar community spaces and make it easier for parents to bring their kids to classes since they would be on weekends. Using a community center could also garner more interest and participation in the program.

Month-by-month plan with mechanism for showing progress:

  • September: Research the issue of inequality within the arts (how some communities are not given the opportunity to partake in the arts and why)
  • October: Research existing programs and solutions to this issue and conduct interviews with leaders (people involved with Kidznotes and/or dance studios)
  • November and December: Shadow and intern with various community organizations to gain experience teaching or potentially writing grants.
  • Mechanism for showing progress: I will document my progress on my blog and meet with my faculty advisor weekly or every other week to keep myself on track.

Expected form of final product (essay, prototype, film, presentation, etc.):

The expected final product at the end of the first semester would be a presentation displaying what I’ve learned about arts inequality and how communities have worked to combat it. I could share this presentation with my dance class to encourage others to engage in these programs.