The RiverCenter for the Performing Arts and Synovus Financial Corp. have teamed up and raised more than $30,000 for arts education in Columbus through a social media campaign.
The RiverCenter+Synovus Arts Education Challenge started May 1 and raised $10,000 in direct GoFundMe donations. Synovus pledged to match donations up to $10,000. Then, over the course of the next few weeks, another $10,000 was raised by people sending in checks directly.
“As of June 30, we had raised over $20,000 for arts education plus the $10,000 from Synovus,” said Rick McKnight, the RiverCenter’s director of education. “Over $30,000 for arts education in 60 days.”
Until now, RiverCenter had never done a social media-based fundraising campaign. McKnight said that the RiverCenter “received invaluable help from Synovus’ communications specialists and learned along the way.”
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National funding cuts reduced funding for previous programming that the RiverCenter provided to at-risk youth. But McKnight said he wasn’t going to let needed programming go away due to a lack of sufficient funds.
“These at-risk youth are children who otherwise might never experience the magic of the arts,” he said. “It is a fact that students engaged in arts learning have higher GPAs and standardized test scores, and lower drop-out rates. Everywhere we go in the schools teachers are yearning for literacy connected shows.”
Just this past year a pilot program founded by Lindsey Ussery Tassoni and Amy Zdunowsky, two teachers from Downtown Elementary Magnet Academy, proved that at-risk students with integrated arts education greatly benefited from the change in curriculum.
“RiverCenter volunteers, many of them retired teachers and principals, took over the reading curriculum three days a week in the second, third and fourth grades at Forrest Road and J.D. Davis elementary schools,” McKnight said. “The principals, teachers and academic coaches at these schools were fabulous to work with. The children the ‘RiverCenter Readers’ worked with increased their end-of-year scores by more than three times expectations and twice the rest of the system.”
The RiverCenter has seen these types of results again and again over the past year as their arts education programming has grown. RiverCenter impacted over 27,000 people last year, and most of them were students who either attended a Discovery matinee or saw a RiverCenter “On the Road” series in their school.
After the national funding cuts occurred, Norman Easterbrook, RiverCenter’s executive director, said he knew that the programming for the 2017-2018 season would take more resources to pull off. He communicated this to RiverCenter’s Board of Trustees, which led Becky Rumer, chief administrative officers at Synovus and RiverCenter trustee, to come up with a plan.
According to McKnight, Rumer developed a challenge “to make the need known through social media and a crowd-funding mechanism.” Then, Synovus pledged to match donations up to $10,000.
The money raised through the initiative will be used solely for arts education in Columbus. Over the course of the next year, the RiverCenter plans to use the funds to increase the number of matinees and add two new Teaching Artists to their “On the Road” programs. The Muscogee County School District will also receive another “Teacher’s Institute” underwritten by Kinetic Credit Union. In addition to these improvements, the RiverCenter Readers program will be expanded to include two more schools.
“The RiverCenter is blessed to have Synovus who partners with us in arts education and also sponsors our Center Stage Series.” McKnight said. “They have encouraged us to try a new way of raising awareness and funds — acknowledging education as a key to improving children’s lives and our community where their employees live and they do business. The combination of a important mission and a major Columbus company committing significant money turned out to be a winning combination.”
McKnight believes the RiverCenter is making a big impact in the community through arts education.
“We can inspire children — show them the possibilities; we can help them learn more quickly and completely paring the curriculum and the arts and we can help teachers learn to use arts integration teaching techniques — proven to be an effective teaching strategy,” he said. “Education is the way forward.”
More to know
While the RiverCenter+Synovus Arts Education Challenge has drawn to a close, if you are interested in learning more about how to get involved or want to bring your children and students to the RiverCenter, email Rick McKnight, education program manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.