Kristen Engebretsen

During our recent Arts Education Council meeting in San Diego, the council members suggested posting some blogs about the federal grant Investing in Innovation (i3) in preparation of the deadline for the next round of applications. So, for the next couple of days, Americans for the Arts will be encouraging a spotlight on the i3 program.

Expect to see some lessons learned from last year’s arts-focused grantees and links to helpful resources if you’re finishing up your application or wanting to resubmit your application from last year.

During that same meeting, the council had the pleasure of hearing Rachel Goslins, executive director of the President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities (PCAH), speak via Skype about their recent Reinvesting in Arts Education report.

She mentioned that during their research, they came across many educators who see the arts as something nice to do only after you’ve solved all of your school’s woes. PCAH is hoping to change this paradigm so that schools start seeing the arts as a solution to boosting test scores, closing the achievement gap, and increasing student engagement.

To quote the report: “The time is ripe, the building blocks are in place in the form of model programs, and the lessons have been learned in the areas necessary to scale up arts education…we can see now there is truly an opportunity to take advantage of the arts to achieve significant and lasting benefits for students, teachers, and schools.”

In essence, this quote is describing the Investing in Innovation fund. With model programs in existence from the Arts in Education federal grants, the time is ripe for moving these programs from being the best kept secrets in education to being the torchbearers of education reform through their engagement of students in deeper learning.

I am a firm believer, as is PCAH, that arts education can lead education reform. There are excellent models out there that need to be shared.

What if instead of demanding a seat at the education table, arts organizations just lead reform by example? Would that world look like the one our president envisions:

“The first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation…but if we want to win the future then we also have to win the race to educate our kids…” -
President Obama, State of the Union Address, January 25, 2011:

Or, in other words, if we want to Invest in Innovation, then we must Reinvest in Arts Education.

5 Responses to “Investing in Arts Education = Investing in Innovation”

  1. Christine Harris says:

    Thank you for starting this conversation. And, I would like to offer an alternate view of the link between arts education and innovation.
    For decades, the research has proven the value of arts education on many levels, including student achievement, teamwork, critical thinking, etc. And yet, none of it has seriously moved the needle on strategic inclusion or budget support or civic advocacy. Arts education rarely has a strategic role in curriulum standards, money has decreased not increased, and the arts aren’t even at the table these days in debating civic priorities. Those of us in this field have failed to effectively convince the powers that be (financial and civic) that the arts are a crucial part of our development as individuals and as communities. We are a ‘nice to have’ in the community, and an ‘extracurricular’ in the schools.
    The arguments we have been using and the language we have been communicating has not worked. The business community is not going to buy that innovation is linked to arts education in the way we have been talking about it.
    We keep getting the same results by tweaking the same discussion over and over again. It is time for a paradigm shift
    In my view, reframing the conversation from arts education to creative education has the power to shift the paradigm. Because building our creative capacity as individuals and as a society is a critical connector to optimizing our innovation potential. Because developing our creative skills is an outcome based activity and studying arts is seen as a curriculum subject (if we’re lucky). Because CEO’s and HR professionals will happily engage in a conversation about how we develop more creative children in relation to having an innovative workforce – and do all they can to support it.
    And so, I am advocating for ‘creative education’ – integrating all of the arts, design, and new media technologies – and building a core creative education curriculum that is focused on developing the broadest creative skill set possible. The arts will be a key component of this approach, but not the only component.
    Stirring the imagination leads to the capacity to be creative which leads to the possibility of innovation.
    The arts are best linked to innovation through the development of our creative capacties and not through student test scores.

    • Kristen Engebretsen says:

      I agree that a reframing of the debate needs to happen, which is why I get excited by conversations about 21st Century skills, where there is a focus on creativity, problem solving, critical thinking and other habits of mind that the arts can inform. A shift away from conversations about fragmented curricular areas can get us back to a student-centered focus on deeper learning. As you point out, the arts will be one piece of that puzzle.

      For schools and districts who are striving for deeper learning, Investing in Innovation is a perfect opportunity to fund programs that can do just what you suggest: “build a core creative education curriculum that is focused on developing the broadest creative skill set possible.” Thanks for your insight!

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  3. Julia Cole says:

    Thanks for this discussion!

    Another aspect of shifting the conversation that I think needs some attention is separating the concepts of creativity and innovation away from a growing “necessary” connection with commerce. It seems to me that whenever we pitch such advantages to the business community we are narrowing the “acceptable” expression of creative capacity to applications in the “Creative Industries”, “Creative Professions” and so on.

    While such activities clearly have value to our culture and economy, we must find a way to hold an honored place for the kind of open-ended practices that are not associated with products, packaging or persuasion. While it does seem to be harder than ever to maintain value for the kind of iconoclastic vision that inspires spiritual refreshment, provokes critical re-evaluation and engages complex physical and emotional sensation, it seems to me that we need to find a way to speak the virtues of such priceless, aimless invention.

    In other words, the arts in and of themselves must be a facet of any kind of creative education program, in order to insist on the broad spectrum of possible creative practice.

    • Kristen Engebretsen says:

      This is exactly why I am always preaching the gospel of Daniel Pink! His ideas not only refresh my work, but also remind me why I got into the arts in the first place: creativity leads to a motivating and fulfilled life. For examples of everyday creativity I follow Dan at: http://www.danpink.com/feed

      Another brilliant voice in this field is Dr. Robert Root-Bernstein. I love this quote: “If we want a more creative society, we need to shift how we teach every subject. Unlike creativity itself, the creative process CAN be taught. What arts can do, when they are done right, is teach creative process better than any other subject.” I follow him at: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/imagine/feed

      To everyone: who else is a leader in this thought-provoking discussion? Who do you follow?

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Alec Baldwin and Nigel Lythgoe talk about the state of the arts in America at Arts Advocacy Day 2012. The acclaimed actor and famed producer discuss arts education and what inspires them.