Philadelphia's children have lost a lot because politicians in Harrisburg have refused to adequately and equitably fund public education. The injustices have been well-documented, from the loss of school nurses and guidance counselors to the sorry physical state of some district schools.
Arts and music programs have always been more fragile in Philadelphia due to the inadequate state funding formula that forces districts to rely on local property taxes - an inequitable system that disadvantages poorer districts.
The Picasso Project was founded in 2002 to bring a little extra funding and attention to schools that need it. The project gives grants of up to $5,000 to any public or charter school with limited arts resources. The money can be used for anything artistic, from a dance or visual arts class to putting on a theatrical production.
Three of the schools receiving Picasso grants will be part of the free first Sunday event at the Barnes Foundation this weekend. Tickets are usually $22 to $25 for adults, but on the first Sunday of every month they are free (though doled out on a first-come, first-serve basis so show up early).
The Picasso Project performances will take place between 2 and 3 p.m., and will feature students from an elementary, middle, and high school. Kids from Henry H. Houston Elementary School will present music from an album - all original songs and lyrics - that they've been working on this semester. Fitler Academics Plus has no dedicated art or music staff, but its teachers have nonetheless won a Picasso grant to teach poetry, break dancing, and Brazilian percussion instruments (among other wonders). At the Barnes, these middle schoolers will be break dancing. Finally, there's South Philly High, which hadn't had a music program for about 10 years, and now has the money to restore it and put on a musical, thanks to Picasso.
"Just did a training yesterday with the School District, the only art teacher [in an institution] to serve 1,000 kids," says Linda Fernandez, director of the Picasso Project. "They don't have a classroom, they have to bring all the supplies. I hear a lot that music teachers get hired and then schools don't have instruments, or art teachers with no supplies. [Picasso offers a chance to] start up an arts project."
Watch the Picasso-funded kids do their thing Sunday at the Barnes, 2025 Ben Franklin Parkway.