Prairie Visions: Nebraska Consortium for Arts Education and Statewide Arts Connection

Sharon L. Kennedy , Director Statewide Arts Connection
Sheldon Art Gallery
12th & R Streets
Lincoln, NE 68588




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Mission: “To serve education as a center for leadership, innovation, and excellence in Comprehensive Arts Education through professional development and curriculum design programs supported by research, tested by practice, created through networks, built upon collaborative ventures, and guided by consensus.”

Nebraska Arts Council
UNO Center for Innovation in Arts Education
National Endowment for the Arts
Joslyn Art Museum
Sheldon Art Gallery’s Sheldon Statewide

The Prairie Visions Summer Institute provides professional development opportunities for administrators and educators in the area of arts education. Participants from across the state attend a four day leadership academy in early June. The Prairie Visions program offers a model of thematic curriculum and activities that lead to a deeper understanding of ideas. Its purpose is to:
  • Enable teachers, administrators, art specialists, museum educators, and others to design curricula, instruction, and assessments which reflect current research, best practices, standards, and frameworks, and also connect to students’ lives.
  • Promote successful collaboration among art specialists and teachers in implementing Comprehensive Arts Education (CAE) at all grade levels.
  • Work with teachers and administrators to make comprehensive arts education integral to schools’ curricula.
  • Use CAE as a model of culture and gender inclusive education to increase understanding and respect for diverse cultures and persons.

The central tenet of the Prairie Vision program’s strategy is that “one can not only infuse art into their district’s current curriculum, but also build curriculum around the arts.”

Conceived in 1987, Prairie Visions has been an ongoing project ever since. For more than fifteen years, Nebraska’s statewide Prairie Visions Project has moved forward comprehensive arts education as part of an overall educational reform effort. As a research, demonstration, and development site, it offers particularly useful strategies to both rural and urban school districts. Since 1987, faculty from the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) have developed strong curriculum based on a thematic and interdisciplinary approach of theory and practice. Each year offers a different theme and curricular connections.

The Getty Foundation served as the major funding partner until 1997, when Nebraska Arts Council (NAC) took over the fiscal and program management responsibilities and TETAC participation. Funding also has been received from the Annenberg Foundation and the Institute for Educational Inquiry. The UNO Center for Innovation in Arts Education arose from the collaboration in 1998, seeking to further connections among art educators, practitioners, arts organizations and institution. In 2003, the Center and NAC linked the Prairie Visions Institute to the state’s Distance Learning system to highlight folk, traditional arts, and “everyday aesthetics”.

Based on a 2004 statewide survey and planning conference, Prairie Vision began the process of diversifying its services beyond the centralize institute model. In 2004-05, five mini-institutes across Nebraska served over 120 educators and artists. Complementing the traveling exhibition from Lincoln’s Sheldon Art Gallery, the mini-institutes offered an interdisciplinary, thematic curriculum. The 2005 Prairie Visions Leadership academy sought to empower teams of administrators and teachers to make arts education more relevant to the community, and participants learned to develop arts outreach and recognition programs.

Now complementing the work of the institute, the Statewide Arts Connection project, run through the Sheldon Art Gallery’s Sheldon Statewide program, helps geographically extend the learning to teachers around the rural state. Integrative art training for teachers and an enriched learning experience for students and community members reaches educators throughout Greater Nebraska. Through one-day workshops, Statewide Arts Connection shares a model of thematic curriculum and activities that lead to deeper understanding of ideas and prepares viewers for their visit to the traveling Sheldon Statewide art exhibition in or near their community.

In 2005, the UNO Center took over the responsibility for the leadership academy with funding from NAC and the National Endowment for the Arts. Professional development and networking continue to be the focus of the summer institute, which features rich resources and active participation. An active state arts education network, including efforts of Nebraskans for the Arts, helps spread the impact of the work to policy.

There have been over three million dollars in funding since conception. Funding partners have included:

Getty Educational Fund, Annenberg Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts. Goals 2000 funds and Nebraska Lottery for partner school districts.

$5 million U.S. Department of Education Art/ Technology Grant for a partnership among school districts, Nebraska art museums, the Smithsonian. Institute for Educational Inquiry.

Findings :
Results of the 2006 Summer Institute showed participants (teachers, museum educators, arts organization educators) served young people at these levels:

6% preschool, 56% elementary, 12% middle school, 24% high school, 2% college/adult.

On the first day 75% ranked themselves novices in dance; on the last day 91% planned to integrate dance into their teaching. Ranking as beginner or novice: 64%, drama; 54% music, 39% in visual arts. At the end of the week, 86% planned to integrate drama, 93% music and 98% visual art.

These facts prove that the intensive four day institute served to introduce the novices to arts integration, to build their competence level of knowledge, to provide constructive ideas based on research and theory, to increase their level of confidence in using arts integration in their classrooms, and to motivate and build their enthusiasm for the arts.

Lessons Learned:
A strong component is the reflective process. Participants are involved in both written and verbal response efforts, which is vital to help them understand the connection between those “fun” activities and the learning components. A recent participant said the most successful part of Prairie Visions was “the hands-on and asking ourselves questions along the way to be able to think and work through problems to come to integrated solutions.”

Participants who come with a colleague are more inclined to broaden their curricular experiences. Many schools send a team of two to six people which provides them with a support group for ideas and teaming possibilities. From one district in 2006, a team of two classroom teachers and the district’s gifted coordinator are writing a year-long thematic unit. The summer institute also serves as the introductory workshop experience for the first-year teachers in the graduate program CADRE II: The Arts. Their Prairie Visions experience is followed by summer and fall seminars in Learning In and Through the Arts. Interaction with other teachers opens up new ideas and provides support.

Useful Tools:
Nebraska Arts Council Arts Education Resources

Nebraska Arts Council. Prairie Visions. 2006. Web Page. URL: 24 May 2006.

Target Population:
Arts Specialists

Classroom Teachers

Education Administrators

Other Population

Arts Discipline:

Interdisciplinary arts and other subjects

Visual Arts

Entry Points:




Education Thread: