by Ashley Kasprzak, JVA Consulting
Art education, best practices and social enterprise are all hot topics to me. When they intersect, I’m all over it. Downtown Aurora Visual Arts (DAVA) is a great example. DAVA has a social enterprise called the Portable Arts School (PASch)—pronounced posh. PASch has been in existence for over nine years and served a record-breaking numbers of students last year: 636 youth with 9,223 interactions.
Staff members delivered more than 500 workshops and earned money for DAVA. In addition to receiving fees for service for the program, PASch is also supported by several grantors including the Denver Foundation. Staff and funders alike are thrilled that the program is in the black. PASch Director Krista Robinson said that the entire DAVA staff holds itself to a high standard and understands that the program must at least cover its costs.
DAVA’s mission of strengthening community through youth drives PASch. That core purpose is combined with the best practice tenets of using professional artists and high-quality art-making materials. DAVA teachers don’t just offer fun craft projects, they develop lessons based on the State of Colorado’s core content standards. DAVA staff members try to inspire students in a way that a lecture may not.
When Krista took over PASch six years ago, she analyzed the business model and customer base. She realized that there was a very diverse clientele, and efficiencies could be improved. With her personal background in community-based arts education, Krista decided to hone in on schools as the target market. Krista said, “I decided to work with Aurora’s Office of Youth Development and tie more closely to education. I networked with their partner schools and others beyond.”
Krista wanted to transfer the integrity of DAVA’s onsite programming to in-school and afterschool programs. In the 2010/2011 school year, William Smith High School and Fletcher Middle School used PASch to address their core curricula in a meaningful way. Krista also said that visionary leaders like Principal Jane Shirley at William Smith and the long-term nature of their relationship have helped make this contract relationship successful.
Like many education professionals, DAVA staff members are wondering how DAVA will be affected by cuts to education funding at the state-level. While PASch has covered costs, ensuring ongoing delivery of DAVA’s free open studio for at-risk youth, DAVA will likely have to revise its business model because customers may be more limited to pay for service. As Krista said, “We may have to reinvent again.” Krista’s attitude points to precisely why PASch is successful—it has a leader who has awareness of external forces, the ability to make fast decisions and the nimbleness to adapt.