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By Lukas Pleva December 1, 2009

Artist program included in Kennedy Serve America Act

As a candidate, Barack Obama promised to "support the creation of an 'Artists Corps' of young artists trained to work in low-income schools and their communities."

President Obama can cross this promise off his to-do list. On April 21, 2009, he signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, named after the Massachusetts senator. Among other things, the act increases the number of positions within the AmeriCorps program from 75,000 to 250,000 by 2017, establishes a nationwide Call to Service campaign, and expands age and income eligibility for foster grandparents and senior companions.

Buried deep inside the bill, in Section 1302, is a list of programs that are eligible for federal funding. One of these programs is the Education Corps, which the bill calls on to provide--and this is key--"skilled musicians and artists to promote greater community unity through the use of music and arts education and engagement through work in low-income communities, and education, health care, and therapeutic settings, and other work in the public domain with citizens of all ages." That sounds like the Artist Corps to us.

The inclusion of this section is largely due to the efforts of Rep. Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y., who repeatedly emphasized the importance of music and art education during the congressional debate on the bill: "Music and the arts are about far more than just entertainment – they have the power to change lives."

While Congress still needs to get the program established, the basic infrastructure is in place. Programs such as the Music National Service (MNS) and Sitar Arts Center already provide music and art education in low-income neighborhoods. The extra funding is expected to expand the reach of these organizations. According to Shirley Sagawa, a Visiting Fellow at the Center for American Progress, the language in the bill "makes it quite clear that not only will music and arts programs be eligible for this funding but that the policymakers are looking for organizations like the MNS Initiative as models of success."

The program is only in its beginning stages. Nevertheless, having signed the bill into law, President Obama has fulfilled his promise. We rate it Promise Kept.

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