The "Any Given Child" project could reinvent arts education for schools struggling with budget cuts.

Advocates of teaching 21st-century skills understand the importance of fostering creativity in today’s students, but harsh economic realities have led many schools to cut back on their arts-education programs. Now, a new model is emerging that could help offset those cuts.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is starting a new program that could reinvent arts education for schools struggling with budget cuts and fewer art teachers, organizers said Oct. 9.

The pilot “Any Given Child” project, which will begin with schools in Sacramento, Calif., could be expanded to as many as three cities each year, the center said. Under the strategy, the Kennedy Center will link local arts groups with schools to help teach students in grades K-8.

The groups will draft long-range plans specific to each participating city to ensure that all students have access to music, theater, and the visual arts. The Kennedy Center is devoting about $500,000 to begin the program and expects to keep costs low for local schools.

“A frustration I have is that every arts-education program sounds good, but I’m not sure it’s always contributing to a well-educated child,” said Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser, who developed a reputation in New York and Washington for turning around arts groups struggling with financial problems. “We’re trying to find an affordable approach to systematic arts education.”

Too often, children’s education in the arts depends solely on whether the teacher appreciates the arts, he said. Some students might skip a year or more of arts instruction, he said, if their teachers aren’t interested or are compelled to focus on other priorities such as reading, science, or math.

“I’m not concerned with the numbers of children when people say we serve 8,000 children or 4,000 children,” Kaiser said. “I want any given child to have a great kindergarten through eighth [grade] systematic arts education.”

Kaiser said schools need a comprehensive way of teaching the arts, as they do with math, to ensure that students have the skills necessary for a U.S. economy increasingly driven by creativity.