Meet Allison Russo

Dreaming of boundless arts education

When I first became a public school music teacher, I thought I was going to do that job forever. I loved it! I constantly couldn’t believe that I was being paid to do this work. 

I quickly realized this job was HARD. And even harder was accepting that I couldn’t do it all, be it all, or teach it all. It never felt good enough. The lack of resources and time was always lowering my impact with students. It all left me feeling unprepared, disrespected, and totally alone. I could feel burnout creeping in. 

I saw an opportunity to write a grant for my program, so I figured I would give it a shot. I had taken a grant writing class in college, so I was glad to take on the challenge. A short time later, I was awarded my first grant (little did I know how many were ahead!) and my project “Jurassic Arts” was born! This multi-school, multi-discipline, science-packed, dinosaur-themed project would have been referred to as “STEAM” if the term had been coined back then. 

I’ll never forget the moment I watched one of my colleagues’ choirs joyously perform with their dinosaur masks that they made in art class. I thought to myself, “Wow, I made this happen… With a grant!” I realized how amazing arts education is when we break down the barriers of a single classroom, one style or discipline, or one source of funding. The arts are boundless! So I was hooked on a question: “How deep, wide, and big can the world (and impact) of arts education get?”

One summer, I took a leap out of the classroom and into the nonprofit world with a job at a music education non-profit… and guess what? Now I could see even more gaps and issues in the arts education world. 

One of my first tasks as a new education manager was organizing a school residency – and, wow! The same thrill of making a program come to life! But then came… (dun dun dun!) my first grant report. 

“What was the impact of this program? Provide data as appropriate.” Uh-oh. I had a lot to learn about how to “speak funder.” 

It only got worse when we lost a few long-term school programs and needed to replace them with new ones. Suddenly, I was a one-person sales department, and had no idea how to sell. Not to mention, I now was responsible for single-handedly creating, administering, and analyzing all data-collection systems. I thought I was just going to put some music programs together. School partnerships were keeping me up at night!

That’s when that drive to understand how things work really kicked in. What are we really doing here? Who gets a say in this? What do our students really need? Is there a better way to do this? 

I learned, asked questions, experimented, failed, and tried again. Because that awe of bringing a program to life was just too good to give up! I took on evaluation, culturally-responsive and anti-bias pedagogies, marketing, grant writing, operations, and all of the many tiny tasks that make school partnerships work. 

If you’re done hoping and wishing your education programs will improve and want to take action, I’d like to invite you to grab a free connection call with me. Together, we’ll get clear on how to streamline your operations, strengthen your school partnerships, and get more funding to grow your organization.

Woman with curly hair and glasses smiling

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