Denise Davis-Cotton, director of the University of South Florida’s (USF) Center for Partnerships in Arts Integrated Teaching (PAInT), has been named principal investigator of an $8.5 million grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Education to strengthen arts educational programming in the nation’s educational system.
Titled “Race, Equity, Arts and Cultural History (REACH),” the project seeks to establish a national, replicable model to strengthen arts learning in U.S. schools and harness the effectiveness of arts integration as a catalyst for increasing student engagement and achievement across multiple content areas. The project will be funded over five years.
“The entire USF community joins in celebrating Dr. Davis-Cotton’s tremendous achievement,” Interim USF President Rhea Law said. “This award serves as a shining example of USF’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, and it demonstrates the power of collaboration to enrich our communities.”
The Arts Schools Network (ASN), a collective group of national arts leaders, thought partners and valuable contributors to the arts, is working directly with Davis-Cotton to implement the program.
“I am delighted to lead this national initiative that will reach hundreds of thousands of students across the country,” Davis-Cotton said. “This project builds upon my desire to promote programs and secure resources in the arts for socio-economically-depressed communities. I am excited to share my leadership experience and motivation to help educators and teaching artists build upon their prior, current and future work in diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
Davis-Cotton, who founded and served as the first principal of Detroit School of Arts, has long enjoyed a collaborative relationship with ASN, where she previously served as a board member and past president. As director of the USF Center for PAInT, which is housed on the Sarasota-Manatee campus, Davis-Cotton has effectively leveraged community partnerships across Florida to develop innovative art-based programming.
“Dr. Davis-Cotton is continually creating ways to elevate the public discourse around issues of equity and inclusion,” said USF Sarasota-Manatee campus Regional Chancellor, Karen Holbrook. “It was amazing to receive the news about this grant, but not unexpected given her leadership to advance teacher proficiency and help young students become high academic achievers through the arts. This is the largest award to a program or individual in the history of our campus and is a direct reflection of Denise’s commitment to these important initiatives.”
“I am grateful to Denise and collaborative writers David Flatley, Heather Patay and the team at Complement Consulting Group, who made this grant a reality!” ASN President Scott Rudes said. “This award will engage emerging and seasoned teachers, teaching artists, principals and superintendents in K-16 schools around the country in arts-based professional development learning activities. Davis-Cotton’s visionary commitment to racial equity in the arts is the driving force behind this innovative project that seeks to make meaningful and lasting change.”
REACH is a collaborative, evidence-based model designed to provide sustained professional development by creating and disseminating arts-based materials and programming.
The initiative will involve a multitude of partners, both local to South Florida as well as national. One partner, the Education Development Research Institute (ERDI), will provide an avenue for engagement with national thought leaders at the superintendent level to explore ways in which education can and needs to shift to better support not only creativity at all levels of instruction, but also an inclusive curriculum that reflects the diverse citizenry of the United States.
Participating REACH schools will be representative of the current educational landscape, especially as it relates to underserved students and students with disabilities in traditional public schools, magnet schools and charter schools in urban and rural settings.
Specifically, the grant affords these demonstration schools – including the William Monroe Rowlett Academy for Arts and Communication (Elementary) and the William Monroe Rowlett Academy for Arts and Communication (Middle), both in Bradenton; the Chicago-based Arts In Motion middle and high schools; and the West Michigan Academy of Arts and Academics school in Grand Haven – to serve as national models to design instructional practices on racial and cultural equity, while implementing arts education, arts integration and cultural initiatives in classrooms.
“I look forward to working with Denise,” said Scott Allen, executive director of the Arts Schools Network. “She is regarded in national circles for her dedication and unique talents as a transformational leader and mentor. For decades, she has made distinguished contributions in advancing, promoting and celebrating the arts in education. The grant is poised to have a significant impact as Davis-Cotton anticipates it will annually serve 4,000 students, 150 teacher leaders and 100 teaching artists, arts educators, principals and superintendents per year.”
Flatley, who will serve as lead consultant for the initiative and has been deeply engaged in the arts-integration movement since the early ’90s, said, “This project seeks to establish replicable best practices around inquiry-based curriculum development and delivery that embrace both the effectiveness of arts integration as well as the importance of cultural inclusion and democracy.
“The diversity of institutions ensures that our practices can be translated to other contexts and support the development of an effective replication of the model,” Flatley continued. “The lens with which PD and curriculum will be designed, through the arts, will be a culturally responsive one: exploring race and issues of equity, as well as unpacking hidden histories often not included in today’s curriculum.”