Edwina Meyers and Gail Velez, Cool Culture's Founders and Board Co-Chairs, established Cool Culture to address the absence of low-income families in the audiences of New York's wonderful arts, cultural, and scientific institutions.
Both women have extensive experience in early education and family learning. Ms. Meyers has over 20 years experience at the Administration for Children's Services, including serving as Deputy Commissioner for the Agency for Child Development, and is now the Director for External Affairs at the Agency. Ms. Velez, a former Head Start Director, is now the President of Family Publications, which publishes informational guides for parents and teachers on activities to share with children.
In 1997 Ms. Velez and Ms. Meyers formed the Cultural Development Task Force, a group of arts educators, museum personnel, child care agency managers, and low-income parent representatives dedicated to finding ways to make cultural institutions more accessible to low-income New Yorkers. From a series of discussions, meetings, and focus groups came the concept of Passport to Summer Adventure, a summer program providing free admission and information for museums and other cultural institutions to designated Head Start and Day Care centers.
In 1999, based on the success of Passport to Summer Adventure, Ms. Velez and Ms. Meyers introduced the year-round Cool Culture program with 75 Head Start and Day Care centers and 12 cultural institutions participating. Cool Culture has grown every year since. This year the organization will work with over 425 Child Care, Head Start, and Universal Pre-K programs and Title I public schools, as well as 90 cultural institution partners.
Cool Culture developed out of the idea that all families should be able to participate in cultural activities regardless of their ability to pay. New York City's many museums and other cultural institutions are rich with essential types of experiences that stimulate curiosity and create important contexts for learning. Any child that does not have access to these essential learning experiences risks being left behind.
Over ten years ago, we invited educators, parents, government officials, and museum representatives to explore different ways to remedy the fact that low-income families rarely visit or use cultural institutions on their own. Thanks to the vision and dedication of this group, the Cool Culture program was born. Cool Culture is a unique partnership between museums and select social service and educational agencies that makes it possible for many low-income families to gain access to the varied cultural institutions across the five boroughs. Once parents and caregivers become aware of the resources for enjoyment and learning available in these settings, and how important such exposure can be to their children's development, they are eager to visit cultural institutions and to take part in their programs. We so appreciate the contributions of our initial collaborators, as well as those of the cultural institutions and early childhood educational programs and Pre-K and Kindergarten classes at Title I public schools that partner with us today.
Cool Culture represents an investment in the future - ensuring that all children grow up with cultural exposure and that cultural institutions continue to have diverse and growing audiences for their invaluable offerings. We hope you enjoy exploring this website and learning about Cool Culture.
Gail Velez and Edwina Meyers
Founders and Co-Chairs of Cool Culture