Over one million dollars – that is how much money has been raised statewide for arts education because of an interactive supplemental funding program initiated by the Tax Collector for Polk County (TCPC). Every year, Tax Collector for Polk County, Joe Tedder and his team would participate in the Great American Teach-In. To engage the students in what they do at the TCPC they would bring in specialty tags to discuss with the students. A few weeks after their visit, Tedder would receive letters and drawing of tags as a ‘thank you’ for speaking to their class.
Tedder and his team brainstormed how they could harness this creativity to raise money for art classrooms at each school. The Kids Tag Art program was conceptualized and put into action. The program has bolstered the budgets of many art classrooms across the county for 14 years now. According to Tedder, teachers in public, private, and charter schools within the county have a curriculum created and supported by the Polk County School Board which allows fifth-grade students to design a vanity tag in a template provided by the TCPC. “That artwork is scanned and made available for the students and the general public to buy these tags,” said Tedder. “With the generous support of many sponsors, they’re able to take the funds from those tags and enhance the arts education in the elementary classroom.”
One hundred percent of the funds raised by purchasing Kids Tag Art tags, minus the cost to produce the tags, go into the classroom. The TCPC recognized that not every school had the population to be able to purchase a large number of tags. They didn’t want this to hinder any school from the opportunity to enhance their art education curriculum. With the support of their sponsors, the program extends a base amount of money to every school that participates – even if not a single student buys a tag. Funds from the tags they sell are additional to that base amount.
“It was important to us so that every art teacher would have the ability to enrich their program and not base this solely on the number of tags they sold,” said Tedder. Tedder cited the numerous studies indicating a link between the arts and a child’s success in school and later in life for just how vital funding arts education is. “They become problem solvers, they learn commitment and discipline, creativity, innovation. They perform better in school – their life, in general, is more enriched,” he said. Arts across the spectrum are important to the tax collector’s office said, Tedder. “When we saw an opportunity to bridge that with a direct connection to what we do […] we thought that this was an excellent opportunity, our unique way to contribute to our community.”
They took the concept with them to conferences speaking to other tax collector’s offices about the program. Fourteen offices across the state have implemented the program in their county. Last year, Kids Tag Art was recognized by the governor and cabinet for surpassing $1M raised for arts education statewide. Just over $400K has been raised in Polk County since the program’s inception with over 60,000 pieces of artwork collected to date.
Joe Tedder, who was a drummer in band throughout junior high, high school, college and even for the Imperial Symphony Orchestra, is personally vested in this program. “I believe in my heart that if it weren’t for musical arts […] I would not be able to do what I do today. It taught me many skill sets that I use every single day in my job,” he said.
In fact, Tedder played in junior high band with fellow percussionist Greg Masters. Masters is the owner of Southern Homes, the major sponsor for Kids Tag Art, donating $25,000 a year to the program. Masters says his time in the band played a pivotal part in his development. From balancing homework with practicing his instrument to working as a team with fellow bandmates and competing for first chair, the Southern Homes owner said the arts gave him the work ethic he has today. “The arts meant a lot to me when I didn’t know what it meant to me,” he said. Masters remembers discussing the program with Tedder and knowing immediately this was an ideal avenue for him to contribute to the arts.
This year, 87 schools participated in the program county-wide and the tax collector’s office received 5,400 pieces of artwork from students and teachers. Last year they introduced the option for teachers to participate and design a tag.
The Kids Tag Art program will hold their Awards of Distinction Ceremony on March 3, 2020, at 6 pm in the Branscomb Auditorium at Florida Southern College. The top two tags are selected from each school and the student artists who created the tags receive a certificate and medallion in recognition of their artwork. Tedder stressed that each piece of artwork is special and that their goal is not to turn the program into a competition, but rather to acknowledge exceptional artwork. Each award recipient gets to walk across the stage to receive their certificate as their artwork is shown on the screen. Following the ceremony, the tags will be on traveling display within the county starting at the Polk Museum of Art from March 3 - March 29, 2020.
As a supplemental funding program, Tedder said, “What we’re hoping art teachers are able to do with this is bring unique things to the art classroom.” According to the TCPC, Chain of Lakes Elementary was able to create a digital lab and another school introduced pottery into the classroom because of the support provided by the program.
One such teacher is the K-5 art teacher at Pinewood Elementary School, Mrs. Betsy Reeves who was able to buy tools for clay, a coil extruder, and colorful glazes for her classroom because of Kids Tag Art. Perhaps even more important is what each student gets out of participating in the program. Mrs. Reeves and her kids get really into designing tags, even contriving stories behind some of their designs. She says Kids Tag Art is a way for her to teach lessons in design and graphic design.
The Pinewood Elementary art teacher remembers a student named Clinton who worked hard on a Legoland design. She described him as the type of kid that doesn’t receive a lot of positive attention. He was so invested in his work that when he was finished, they went around the school proudly showing all of his former teachers. “When we went to the awards ceremony and he won, it was like he had won an Oscar. I know he’ll never in his life forget that,” she said. “That taste of success, I think he’ll build on that for the rest of his life.”
You can support arts education in Polk County by supporting the Kids Tag Art program. You can purchase a vanity tag created by Polk County students through the tax collector’s office or at www.kidstagart.com
Kids Tag Art