The Cathedral Arts Project (CAP) kicks off its 30th anniversary celebration this month with a mayoral proclamation of Cathedral Arts Project Day on January 30, 2023, and an exhibition of children’s artwork at St. John’s Cathedral on view until February 12. The exhibition, “Celebrating 30 Years Empowering Children Through the Arts,” includes artworks created by students in CAP programs from 2006 to 2022 as well as a historical timeline of the organization’s milestones over the past three decades.
CAP was founded in 1993 by Gail Weltsek and her son along with a small group of volunteers at St. John’s Cathedral in downtown Jacksonville. It began with just one dance class for 10 children who lived in a nearby transitional housing facility. Within three years, the organization began to include dance programs at area elementary schools, and in 2000 it received its 501(c)(3) designation. Today, the organization has provided over 31,000 students, primarily living in under-resourced communities in Duval County, with professional arts education in art as therapy, dance, media arts, music, theatre and visual arts.
“For 30 years, the Cathedral Arts Project has stayed true to its mission to make quality arts education accessible to all children, and we will continue to expand our programs as we pursue this goal,” said President & CEO Rev. Kimberly L. Hyatt, “At CAP, we know from our data that nourishing a child’s creative spirit and innovative thinking also supports their ability to reach their full potential as a student and garner a better understanding of their own humanity.”
In 2013, CAP engaged the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to be considered for its Any Given Child program. Jacksonville became the 14th Any Given Child (AGC) community, one of only 27 designations in the nation. Working through a collective impact model with CAP, Duval County Public Schools, local arts organizations, artists and community leaders, AGC Jacksonville ensures all K-8 students in Duval County have equitable access to learning in the arts. Data shows since 2014, there has been a 30% increase in the number of full-time DCPS arts educators, aligning directly with the timeline of CAP and AGC’s partnership. On average, CAP students score 7 points higher on standardized tests, achieve higher grade proficiency, perform better in science, and receive half as many behavioral violations in comparison to students not participating in CAP programs. Over a 10-year period, 97% of CAP students were promoted to the next grade level and 84% increased “grit” indicators such as class participation and task completion.
A recent objective of the organization has been to better understand the challenges schools face in providing critical arts education and work to find solutions. In addition to supporting children’s educational goals, the LEAD artlook® map launched by CAP in 2019 has provided Duval County schools and community stakeholders with data needed to identify deficits in funding, resources and programs in the arts offered by public schools. In 2021, the data collected showed that 84% of principals were in need of art supplies and equipment, while 63% expressed that a dedicated arts budget would be beneficial to their student community. By gathering this data, CAP helps stakeholders identify how best to allocate resources to schools in support of making arts education equitable in Duval County.
Hiring high-caliber, full-time teaching artist fellows to conduct its arts programs in the community is the organization’s most recent expansion in services. Over the last several years, CAP’s board, staff, and local and national community partners gathered to rethink, redefine and reimagine how to expand CAP’s reach to more children while maintaining the quality of its programs. Transitioning from its longstanding model of a large roster of part-time teaching artists, CAP is building a smaller team of full-time teaching artist fellows who are able to teach more programs throughout the year, thereby reaching more students in more ways. No other organization in the country uses this unique model to leverage such far-ranging outcomes.
“CAP is an organization pursuing systemic change in how we deliver and evaluate the impact of arts education on children,” said Kristine Cherek, CAP Board Chair. “Our important work has impacted the lives of generations of children in Northeast Florida over the past three decades and will continue to build on its incredible foundation and proven track record.”