The art of partnership

Businesswoman brings together public and private sectors

In an economy where businesses and non-profit organizations are struggling to make ends meet, Teri Sullivan bravely set out to form her own company and help the community at the same time.
The Cedarburg woman is doing just that.
A veteran of Milwaukee’s nonprofit sector, Sullivan formed Sulli & Associates, a for-profit company that builds partnerships that often involve the public, private and nonprofit sectors.
Sullivan teamed with Kim Abler, art curriculum specialist at Milwaukee Public Schools, to secure a $228,000 grant from the US Department of Education for the 2001-2002 school year. With the grant, they partnered with MPS to launch Cultural Partnerships for At-Risk Youth, a unique arts integration program serving middle school students.
"The program has an impact on many different groups, from artists and arts-based nonprofits to educational institutions, teachers, small businesses and, best of all, students," Sullivan says. "It’s a program that generates real benefits for all."
Originally designed by Abler, the project began as a pilot program that reached students in four Milwaukee middle schools: Lincoln Center Middle School of the Arts; Ralph H. Metcalfe K-8 School; Jackie Robinson Middle School; and Walker International Middle School.
Blending community arts partners such as the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Fitzsimonds Boys & Girls Club, Danceworks and Walker’s Point Center for the Arts with those schools, the pilot program achieved measurable results, including:
— Arts-related opportunities for students were increased by at least 75% at Jackie Robinson Middle School and Metcalfe School and by at least 50% at Walker International Middle School and Lincoln Center Middle School.
— Arts were integrated across the curriculum at the schools.
— Arts community organizations developed educational programming that is more responsive to the needs of at-risk students.
The Department of Education deemed the program a success and expanded it for three years with a $1 million grant. The program now serves six middle schools, one K-8 school and one high school, and the project is growing significantly.
"What I do is listen to someone who has an idea. Then, I put the puzzle pieces together," Sullivan says.
The impact of the arts on learning has been documented.
One researcher, James Catterall, noted in his study, Champions of Change: The Impact of the Arts on Learning, that, "students with high level of arts participation outperform ‘arts-poor’ students by virtually every measure …. It makes a more significant difference to students from low-income backgrounds than for high-income students."
The impact of Milwaukee program goes beyond helping low-income children.
The program has created several options for professional development that MPS teachers can use to enrich their skills to develop an arts integration curriculum by attending courses at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design’s Creative Educator’s Institute (CEI).
The CEI is an intensive studio residency for teachers promoting the use of new technology in combination with traditional art and design media and practices. Through the Cultural Partnerships program, 24 teachers will be given scholarships to attend the CEI courses.
"It has been great to be able to build a more sustained relationship with teachers at MPS through the Cultural Partnerships for At-Risk Youth. Not only do we give the teachers direct professional development, but we also can work directly with their students," says Josie Osborne, director of outreach at MIAD.
Another benefit is the impact the program is having on arts organizations and artists in Milwaukee, who are given opportunities to expand their services and ultimately to increase their revenues and sustainability.
The program also is helping Milwaukee’s small-businesses, some of which are securing work to help the project.
With its impact on students, teachers, arts organizations, educational institutions and small businesses, one would think the program would be cumbersome to manage. "The money goes to the program," Sullivan says. "With only 5.44% of the funds utilized for indirect costs, you can see the program is more than just a success for the students — it’s a success for the Milwaukee community as a whole."

KeleMarie Lyons is the founder of Pinnacle XL, a management consulting company with offices in Milwaukee and Chicago. She can be reached via e-mail at

April 4, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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