The Whitney's Education Department was founded in 1966. In response to New York City's 1970's budget crises, and loss of arts programs in the public schools, the Whitney pioneered free gallery tours to public school students and teachers. That initiative, new to museum education at the time, restored critical public access to art and arts education. Through this core offering, we have demonstrated a commitment to provide opportunities for a wide, diverse public to experience the Whitney's permanent collection and special exhibitions. That key plank in our education platform has become the guiding principle of our Education Department: unhindered access to art enriches all people's lives. The Museum has continued to develop programs aimed at serving the special learning needs and interests of other segments of society.
During the last three years, the recession has severely impacted audiences served by our Access and Community Programs. The institutions with which individual Museum-goers are affiliated, such as senior centers, transitional housing, and special-interest groups have been forced to cut non-essential spending for recreational activities and transportation. For example, continuous cuts in the NYC Education Department result in a student population denied arts classes and art enrichment programs; NYC's Department of Aging reported that the 2011 state budget cut a million dollars for senior citizens resulting in closure of up to 80 centers; and deep persistent reductions in social services agencies' budgets, among other reduced funding, have left the Whitney's Regent Residence art program as the only free, long-term art programming provided to homeless children still intact.
The Whitney has responded with more off-site programming for many long-term partners. However, now it is time to reflect, strategically apply resources, and develop new means of outreach. The Whitney has in the past two years engaged in a close examination of its programs due to its new building project; thus it is an optimal moment to consider new solutions for continuing to reach and serve our ever-widening and changing Community and Access audiences. Additional financial support will ensure continuation of our programs and service to these populations in need and also provide an opportunity to pilot new programs and expand our reach to those who do not normally have access to cultural resources.