“Arts in Schools” is the theme for Education Closet during the month of March. If you are reading this, you are likely already an advocate of the arts in schools. If that is the case, we need arts advocates more than ever as we are in a time when they could be on the chopping block again. It’s time to be more mindful, more vigilant and raise our presence as much as possible and celebrate arts in schools
I know my district wants to be supportive of the arts. We have board members and a superintendent who sincerely believe in the power and the importance of the arts. Their vote this past fall to unanimously approve the district’s Strategic Arts Education Plan and the impassioned speeches they gave the night they voted to approve it convinced me. However, the district is currently facing a huge financial deficit and that money has to come from somewhere. Everything is on the table – physical education, art, technology, classroom teachers, support staff.
Cutting funding = Short-Sighted Gain
It brings me back to an old bumper sticker that may be simplistic but I loved the sentiment, “Bake sales for bombs”. When I learn that we are in financial straits for whatever reasons as a district, as a state, or as a country, I have to ask about our priorities. I am sure I don’t know the complexities of keeping our country safe or of balancing the budget for a district, state or whole country. What I do know is that taking money from education, any area of education is short-sighted. It’s penny wise and pounds foolish. Without educated children who are compassionate, creative, cooperative problem solvers, this whole planet is in trouble.
The Slippery Slope of Fundraising
I recently sat at a meeting of an advisory council for the Visual and Performing Arts and we discussed the slippery slope of fundraising to keep the arts in school an active part of the system. Someone made an amazing graph that showed all the schools in the district and whether or not each school has each of the art forms – green for yes and red for no. What it didn’t show is how those art forms are funded.
I happen to know that two of the schools that show green is funded by a combination of parents raising funds, private foundations, grants and dedicated volunteers. While all that is wonderful and I am thrilled that students are getting exposure to arts, that is not a sustainable way to systematically structure intentional, rigorous arts programs in which students can grow every year, deepening their understanding and reaping the full benefits of what each art form has to offer.
Why Celebrate Arts in Schools?
People involved in the arts are passionate and they are creative. It is in their nature. Therefore, they find ways to make it work – to get art into the hands of children any way they can. I just want those of us in the field of arts education to keep our eyes on the ball and think about the long game. I want to be sure we are not selling our kids short by just trying to get something rather than nothing. We need to continue to think big and question assumptions or the way things have always been done. We need to continue to be a presence and we need to try to show the world what it would be like if we skimp on the education of our children.
I don’t have the answers and I know I am preaching to the choir. But this month of celebrating Arts in Schools, let us REALLY celebrate and bring as many people as we can to the party. It is one great way to be sure that we continue to celebrate Arts in Schools.
Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.