As I write this, the clock is ticking on the deadline for the March 18 end to the Continuing Resolution passed by the Congress that allows the government to keep on working—despite the fact that the 2011 federal budget is still being debated.
New members of Congress are working hard to fulfill campaign promises to cut the budget deficit—even if it means reneging on commitments to education and other areas where promises have been made.
Not surprisingly, the fate of 33 grants totaling $40 million to model arts education programs across the country through the U.S. Department of Education lie in this shadow, the outcome still uncertain.
And yet, despite an almost daily offering of news pieces, blogs, and op-eds placing creativity and innovation at the top of what a multitude of experts from economists to educators to engineers say will help the country out of our economic crisis, we find ourselves once again having to make the case for why the arts—the proverbial “primordial ooze” of creativity—is worthy of government investment.
We’re not the only country facing dire economic conditions. And we’re probably more accustomed to and prepared than our colleagues in other parts of the world—who now find themselves having to fight for government support, while simultaneously seeking partners from the private sector—to make these arguments.
Of late, I’ve been spending a little more time thinking about what other countries DO have, that may help sustain their work in making sure children have access to quality learning in the arts, despite what is arguably the most difficult economic environment since the Great Depression.
I’m pretty convinced it’s because the rest of the world has a “Road Map,” and a champion in the form of UNESCO, that views access to arts education as nothing less than a human right.
The rest of the world has also had the benefit of 20+ years of thinking about this, which culminated in 2006 with The Road Map for Arts Education which serves “to promote a common understanding among all stakeholders of the importance of Arts Education and its essential role in improving the quality of education.”
There are a lot of things to like about the Road Map—it embraces and encompasses much of the policies, best practices, and research agendas that arts education advocates have been arguing for here in the United States for at least as long as it took the Road Map to be launched.
We have shining examples of best practices to share with the world. Ironically, many of them are now residing on Congress’ potential chopping block.
Although the Road Map is a non-binding document, it is connected to two significant human rights treaties—the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Among many provisions supportive to the arts, the Convention set the bar high, citing “State parties shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational, and leisure activity (Article 31).”
The rest of the world is also facing an economic crisis. However, 194 countries have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and since 2006, are tracking steady progress on the Road Map—including the United States’ main economic competitor, China.
And once more, with the recent actions of our Congress, proponents of arts education in the U.S. find themselves back to making the case—versus making it happen.