Parallel Universe (Part II): Perpich

Our ASFA entourage visited another arts school in the Twin Cities, one with an older history than PiM and, perhaps, an even closer kinship to ASFA in terms of (1) the very specific mission it fulfills and (2) the large and multifaceted constituency it serves. Founded in 1985, the Perpich Arts High School is part of the Perpich Center for Arts Education, a state agency in Minnesota that is charged with enhancing the arts for public school students throughout the state.

That’s a hard job — Minnesota is a big state (ten thousand lakes!), and, as is the case just about everywhere, the unmet need for arts-infused teaching and learning is just as big. What’s more, public education has changed a lot in Minnesota since 1985. The arts high school at Perpich — which is only open to juniors and seniors, all of whom have to run the gauntlet of a rigorous application and audition process — was once  pretty much the only game in town the entire state for advanced high school arts instruction. Now, there are several arts high schools in the Twin Cities alone, none of which have admissions processes that are as selective as Perpich’s and all of whom extend their curriculum for a full high school experience (i.e., grades 9 – 12).

Simply put, because they’ve been around a while, the folks at Perpich are at a different stage of the cycle of an arts organization than most of their competitors peers, locally and statewide. Like the folks at PiM, they’re fighting the good fight of providing intensive arts instruction in a broader educational ecosystem that often gives the arts short shrift. But circumstances dictate that Perpich has to do it in a slightly different way than a school like PiM does. For the arts high school at Perpich, it means adapting to a new landscape where they have to compete for students; stay vigorously current in their culture, curriculum, and facilities; and guard against the complacency that past success can sometimes bring — all while still holding true to a core set of values that has served the school and its students very well for over thirty years. (All of which are eerily apropos considerations for us at ASFA, as we celebrate our fiftieth anniversary and face a very similar to-do list.)

From what I can tell, Perpich has two very important aces in the hole in making all that happen: (1) they have the people (students, teachers, and a very optimistic and capable new leadership team) and (2) they have the place (a campus awash in green space and natural light, human warmth, and lots and lots of great student art, on display, everywhere [see above]). With assets like that, you can win just about any good fight worth winning.

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