University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee Campus



PAInT Center at USF receives $30,000 donation to promote diversity, equity and inclusion

Students in courtyard

The University of South Florida Foundation has received $30,000 in three separate donations to create a program at the Florida Center for Partnerships in Arts-Integrated Teaching (PAInT) that combines creative learning and classroom instruction with concepts that promote diversity, equity and inclusion.

Called the Beeler Scholars’ IDEIL Program, the initiative is named for philanthropists Tom and Carol Beeler of Sarasota, who provided $10,000 to launch the program. That was followed by separate matching grants from the Gulf Coast Community Foundation and Community Foundation of Sarasota County – together totaling $20,000 – to subsidize the program’s first-year developmental phase. IDEIL stands for Incorporate Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Leadership.

The Center for PAInT, based at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee campus, will administer the program with assistance from local colleges, arts organizations and public schools, including the Circus Arts Conservatory, Florida Studio Theatre, New College of Florida, the Ringling College of Art and Design, State College of Florida, the Visible Men Academy charter school, the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe and Booker Promise, a college-readiness initiative at Booker High School in Sarasota.

Denise Davis-Cotton

Denise Davis-Cotton, EdD

“The goal of this program is to build a more diverse, equitable and inclusive community on the Suncoast through the arts, and the Beelers are helping to fund the program,” said Denise Davis-Cotton, director of the Center for PAInT. “This is their initiative.”

A “train-the-trainers” program, IDEIL is being designed as an online course for arts organization leaders, teachers, students and others who, after completing the course, will introduce what they’ve learned to their host organizations.

The program’s aim is to unite ideas related to diversity, equity and inclusion with arts-integrated teaching, an instructional method that combines the arts with academics. Davis-Cotton is developing the program’s curriculum and content with assistance from Bernadette Bennett, a high school social studies program specialist at the Sarasota County School District, and Michael Shelton, former executive director of the nonprofit arts education program Embracing our Differences.

Early next year, representatives from the local arts and education communities will provide feedback to fine-tune the course.

“The Beeler program is important to PAInT’s ‘IDEIL philosophy’ because it empowers teaching artists and educators to engage in equity work that strengthens social cohesion, promotes shared values and celebrates the heritage, histories and cultural identities of an inclusive community,” said Davis-Cotton, who is also developing a program at Booker Middle School with the Circus Arts Conservatory to spotlight Black artists’ contributions.

Bennett agreed, saying, “When we began our talks with the Beelers – when they were looking for a program that provides students with the skills and understanding to help them move forward in this diverse world – we thought that by looking at concepts of diversity, equity and inclusion we can help them to understand how these issues affect their lives and who they are and where they are going, so they can become better prepared to deal with these issues within society, as community members and members of the workforce.”

The two said the program’s first year would focus on the creating the course curriculum, content and evaluation process. After that, the course will be offered to arts organizations, colleges, schools and others who may also elect to enroll.

According to the project’s executive summary, “The program will create a collaborative environment where the arts become central to the teaching, learning and embracing of concepts, including:

  • diversity, equity, and inclusion
  • financial literacy and workforce development
  • collaboration, teamwork and social awareness
  • creativity and critical thinking

“The program will offer a self-paced online course, focusing on diversity and culturally relevant arts integration with an emphasis on leadership and life skills,” the summary said. “This course will provide the ability to build university student groups with college-level Beeler Scholars who will meet four times during the year, twice per semester. Additional opportunities will be provided for K-12 Beeler scholars based on assessed needs.”

The Beelers have long supported local arts organizations. They reached out to Davis-Cotton about their idea late last year.

“Given what is happening in our country right now and the need for real dialogue on issues of race, we believe this program will contribute to moving that dialogue forward in a meaningful and respectful way while helping young people to understand more about the world and themselves and to embrace others of different races and backgrounds,” said Carol Beeler. “Tom and I are both very excited and pleased to be working with Dr. Davis-Cotton, Dr. Bennett, Michael Shelton and the other project partners.”

Kirsten Russell, vice president of community impact at the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, agreed about the program’s importance and relevancy, adding that the foundation is a strong advocate of both the arts and programs that advance diversity, equity and inclusion.

“Through their philanthropy, the Beelers are helping to advance conversations that give voices and perspectives of many,” Russell said. “Additionally, their gift creates a framework for leadership so those conversations can grow and evolve over time.”

Kirstin Fulkerson, senior vice president for philanthropy at the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, also lauded the Beeler program.

“This is a wonderful example of how the Beelers dive in and take an active role in their philanthropy,” Fulkerson said. “Tom and Carol really model the concept of ‘be the change you want to see in the world,’ and this effort couldn’t come at a more vital time.”

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