Elton John, Yo-Yo Ma, Forest Whitaker or another arts luminary could be working with students of Northside Elementary during the 2014-2015 school year as part of “Turnaround Arts: Minnesota,” a national initiative designed to narrow the achievement gap and improve student engagement through the arts.

Northside is one of four schools in Minnesota, and one of fewer than 40 schools in the nation, to be selected for this program by the Perpich Center for Arts Education, according to Northside Principal Karla Beck.

Perpich is a state agency serving schools, teachers, and students in Minnesota, and it was created in 1985 by the state legislature, according to Perpich’s Debra Kelley. Perpich is home to a public arts education library and an innovative, two-year, statewide residential high school that serves as a living laboratory for creative development in the arts. Spearheaded by the Perpich Center, “Turnaround Arts: Minnesota” is one of six new localities from across the nation selected by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, in partnership with the U.S. Department of Education, the National Endowment for the Arts and several private foundations. Participating schools were selected by program partners through a stringent, nationally-vetted process. Selection criteria included demonstrated need and opportunity, strong school leadership with district support and a commitment to arts education.

The state legislature approved $750,000 specifically for the Minnesota Turnaround Arts initiative, Kelley noted. In addition, the Minnesota State Arts Board has committed $300,000 for grants—up to $75,000 per school per year. Each school also will receive $25,000 in arts supplies, musical instruments and play licenses through national Turnaround Arts.

“I don’t know yet who we’re going to get, but a nationally recognized artist will come to the school to work with us,” Beck said. “We’re so excited.” Possibilities include the aforementioned John, Ma, and Whitaker, actress Sarah Jessica Parker, and numerous others.

Northside applied May 8, Perpich did a site visit May 13, and they learned they’d been selected May 15. Perpich visited 10 sites in Minnesota, choosing four, and Beck said this is a return to form for her. Prior to becoming principal a couple years ago, she taught music for 12 years, so the arts are in your wheelhouse.

“I’m so excited for our kids, because we have limited arts experiences in our town,” she said. “This will be exposure, but it’s also professional development, resources, and money.”

Furthermore, this arts emphasis will not just be for designated art classes; it’s to bring art into all classes, Beck said. For example, when studying a given time period in a social studies class, the teacher might now integrate art or music from that era for a more encompassing learning experience.

Ryan Anderson can be reached at randerson@stjamesnews and followed on Twitter @randerson_ryan

The full story appeared in the June 5 print edition of the St. James Plaindealer.