National Guild For Community Arts Education

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Our History

The movement to ensure community-wide access to quality arts instruction emerged in the late 19th century from the arts programs provided in urban settlement houses and neighborhood centers. Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr  established the first community school of the arts in the United States in 1892 at Chicago’s Hull House to help children of needy immigrants. The concept soon spread to other settlement houses across the nation. In 1937, the National Guild of Community Music Schools was formed.

Expanding Service and Influence

The Guild changed its name to the National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts in 1974 to reflect the growth of multidisciplinary arts programs in its member organizations. During the 1980s and 1990s, under the leadership of Executive Director Lolita Mayadas and Managing Director Azim Mayadas, the Guild attracted increasing respect and national attention for the field. Its membership grew from 63 organizations in 16 states to 303 schools in 44 states. The field itself also experienced unprecedented expansion and change with the founding of new schools and the evolution of community school models within departments of colleges and universities and divisions of social service agencies, orchestras, parks and recreation departments, and other umbrella organizations. Member organizations' budgets also expanded as they developed more complex programs and services to meet the diverse needs of their communities, including partnerships with public schools, arts organizations, and other local agencies.

By 1989, the Guild had a significantly expanded budget, staff, training programs for members, and renewed funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1991, the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund conducted a national study and made two consecutive, three-year grants totaling $1.27 million to the National Guild for GuildTech, a multiyear program to strengthen the capacity of constituent institutions. The Fund also awarded $7.7 million to 23 community schools for faculty development and financial aid. The Guild received a Challenge Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1995 for its New Arts Schools and Centers (NASCENT) program, which provided seed grants, training, and technical assistance to support the start-up of schools in underserved locations. Two other seminal programs were Partners in Excellence, a national initiative to identify and promote effective practices in K-12 public schoolpartnerships, as well as Creative Communities, a $4.65 million, multi-year collaboration with the NEA and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development which provided arts instruction for children and youth living in public housing.

The 21st-Century Guild

By the late 1990s, these initiatives had a major cumulative impact on the Guild and on the community arts education movement as a whole. Nearly 60 percent of the Guild’s members had participated in GuildTech, and more than 30 new organizations had been established. The Guild’s own ability to strengthen the capacity of its membership had been strengthened immeasurably.

The resulting recognition also permanently changed the image and impact of the Guild. It is now the acknowledged leader of the field, a status that has led to major national initiatives and partnerships, including the MetLife Foundation Partners in Arts Education program, the Creative Aging Initiative, the Engaging Adolescents Initiative, and the Community Arts Education Leadership Institute.

In 2004 the Board appointed long-time associate director Jonathan Herman as executive director. 

In 2010, the Guild became the National Guild for Community Arts Education, a name change that reaffirms our identity as an association of arts education providers dedicated to the values of quality, accessibility, and accountability and further signals our commitment to advocating for increased access to lifelong learning opportunities in the arts.

This resource brought to you by the National Guild for Community Arts Education. www.nationalguild.org