Turnaround Arts Initiative Take Flight with the Help of Elton John, Josh Groban, Sarah Jessica Parker

By Adam Hetrick
11 Jun 2014

Josh Groban
Josh Groban

Turnaround Arts, a national program that unites the public and private sector to bring arts education into underserved schools – increasing academic achievement and parent engagement - will expand in the coming years with an additional infusion of $12 million in private funding.

The announcement was made during a special May 20 event at the White House, which invited students from across the country involved in the program to perform for First Lady Michelle Obama. President Obama also stopped by the musical event.

The occasion also featured a performance from the students of Martin Luther King Junior School in Portland, OR, who performed "You're Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile" from Annie JR with the support of their mentor, Sarah Jessica Parker, who appeared in the original Broadway production of Annie.

Read the first-hand account of the event by iTheatrics founder and CEO Timothy McDonald, who along with Music Theatre International, has helped bring musical theatre into underserved schools across the U.S.



With the influx of $12 million in funding from local program partners, the Turnaround Arts Initiative will expand into 19 additional school districts in 11 states. The expanded program will now cover a total of 35 schools in districts in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Oregon and Washington D.C.

The goal is to bring Turnaround Arts to 60 schools across the country in the near future.

MTI CEO Freddie Gershon, a Tony Honoree for creating the Broadway JR series, has been a key figure involved in Turnaround Arts during the two-year pilot program. MTI donates materials from the Broadway JR collection so that participating schools can have access to resources that enable them to put on a successful school musical, even if they have never taken on such a project before.

With the help of Tim McDonald and the iTheatrics team, which develops the Broadway JR shows, the teachers are given the support and expertise they need to ensure that their students have a successful and meaningful experience in the program.

Part of the Turnaround Arts mission is to increase student and parent engagement beyond the run of the school play. In addition to establishing self-sustaining theatre programs in schools that will thrive for years to come thanks to MTI and iTheatrics, Turnaround Arts takes arts education beyond the stage, finding ways to support what students are learning in reading, math and science.

"I've experienced first-hand the transformation that occurs when young people participate in a musical," said Gershon, who was in attendance for the June 3 event with his wife Myrna. "A musical helps students make intellectual connections across a wide variety of subjects and builds self-confidence, discipline, work ethics, reading skills and character. Essentially, we are helping to make better citizens through the arts."

Among the celebrity artists who will lend their skills and time to work with schools in the program are Chad Smith, Clarence Greenwood (aka Citizen Cope), Doc Shaw, Elizabeth Banks, Elton John, Frank Gehry, Jason Mraz, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Josh Groban, Marc Anthony, Rashida Jones, Russell Simmons, the Silk Road Ensemble, Tim Robbins and Troy Andrews (aka Trombone Shorty).

They join the roster of artists who were involved in the pilot programs, including Alfre Woodard, Chuck Close, Damian Woetzel, Forest Whitaker, John Lloyd Young, Kal Penn, Kerry James Marshall, Kerry Washington, Sarah Jessica Parker and Yo-Yo Ma.

"The Turnaround Arts program has exceeded not just our expectations, but our wildest hopes and dreams," First Lady Michelle Obama said in a statement. "With the help of this program and some School Improvement Grants, math and reading scores have gone up in these schools… attendance is up, enrollment is up…parent engagement is up… suspensions have plummeted…and two of the schools in our pilot improved so dramatically that they are no longer in turnaround status. And today, the students in these schools are engaged in their education like never before."