No young person should be denied access to the arts. Period.

That’s why the Columbia Festival of the Arts (CFA) has launched ArtAccess, a new sponsor and donor supported program which offers free tickets to Howard County students in grades K–12. Each donation increment of $25 allows the CFA to provide one Howard County student the opportunity to experience and participate in the arts.

The goal for CFA is to raise a minimum of $2,500 to provide 100 students with access to the arts where it may not previously have been possible. The mechanics of the program establish that, for each performance, a percentage of total tickets available will be specially marked and allocated for ArtsAccess.

On the day of the performance, Howard County students can go to the box office beginning one hour prior to the performance and request an ArtsAccess ticket. Availability will be on a first-come, first-served basis (high school students will be required to show a student I.D.).


A vital part of the CFA’s mission is to expand audience reach beyond existing demographics and increase community partnerships. The new ArtAccess program is designed to maximize opportunities for students and supporters alike.

“We have been thinking, for a long time, about ways to include and engage young audiences in Howard County,” said CFA Executive Director Todd Olson. “As our work with local businesses grows, we have found a way to leverage the goodwill of our corporate partners in such a format that it results in complimentary tickets for young people to use, whenever they like.”

Research reports continue to emphasize how the arts in education have a profound effect on the way students are motivated, but how the decline of arts funding and elimination of various arts programs can have an extremely detrimental effect.

A 2010 study by The Arts Education Partnership echoed a 2002 report, which drew a direct correlation between writing, reading and mathematics student proficiency and the level of exposure to music, dance and theater. The Partnership applied more than 62 studies from 100 researchers, concluding that standardized test scores excelled for those with higher arts education compared to those with little or no access to the arts.

Just the Facts

In 2005, the Rand Corp. published a report, “A Portrait of the Visual Arts,” which supported the theory that an arts education “does more than just give students a creative outlet. It can actually help connect them to the larger world, ultimately improving community cohesion.”

The facts dictate that the benefits of an arts education and participation have residual effects on graduation rates and even test scores. In a 2009 report published by The Center For Arts Education, regarding arts education in New York City public schools, it was cited that “schools with the lowest access [to arts education] also had the highest dropout rates … many at risk students cite participation in the arts as their reason for staying.”

This type of data and the profound results underline the necessity for nonprofit arts organizations, such as CFA, to actively find ways to reach out.

“It’s a win for us because we plant the seeds for an arts audience in a decade,” said Olson. “We hope it’s a win for young people who either might not be able to see performing arts otherwise, or who might not realize the festival regularly brings such amazing art to Howard County.”

No Barriers

According to a 2009 survey (which was part of the Nation’s Report Card: Arts 2008), there has been little change concerning the perceived importance of arts education opportunities. This has had a profound impact on certain disenfranchised socioeconomic and racial groups. While an older core audience may be able to afford competitive ticket pricing for theater, dance, music and other similar events, CFA recognizes the importance to open up doors and provide seats to those who may otherwise be excluded.

“At CFA we never want the cost of tickets to be a barrier to attending memorable arts events, so we have eliminated it,” said Olson.

CFA’s ArtAccess program relies on the goodwill and support of its sponsors and donors to invest in the future of these young minds and lives. As the December holiday season is upon us, arriving closely after a traditional day of thanks and national fundraising efforts, such as GivingTuesday, the spotlight naturally fall on contributions.

Giving the gift of entertainment is a unique way to have people remember a truly meaningful holiday. CFA is continuing its responsibility as a proud community player in bringing these opportunities to life.

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Robert Neal Marshall is the marketing and communications director for the Columbia Festival of the Arts. He can be contacted at 410-715-3044 and [email protected].