Katherine Damkohler

With school districts across the nation failing to include arts instruction as part of their curricula, many cultural and arts organizations have decided to step in to fill this gap by providing arts education programs for nearby schools.

These amazing organizations have taken action to ensure that our children have at least some exposure to the arts. However, could these activities actually be detrimental to the long-term sustainability of in-school arts programs?

For instance, the prestige of a regional organization might lull a principal or school board into thinking that a part-time program is sufficient and they no longer need to hire a full-time arts instructor.

While organizations may be aiming to enrich a student’s education, are they also helping schools justify their choice to eradicate arts instruction?

What is an arts organization to do? What role should they have in arts education? They wield enormous power, which if used correctly can be very effective in supporting a child’s artistic education. But how should they go about catalyzing arts education reform?

Should they limit their enrichment services to schools that already have an arts program in place? If they do this, then how could they justify leaving some children without any arts instruction at all? Should they spend time lobbying school leaders to hire arts teachers? Moreover, should we expect them to get involved in this battle at all?

Arts organizations are undoubtedly invested in the issue of arts education, but what responsibility do they truly have in helping to make arts instruction sustainable for our nation’s schools?

5 Responses to “More Questions Than Answers: The Role of Cultural Organizations in Arts Education”

  1. Interesting post Katherine.

    We are an entrepreneurial ‘arts organization’ that has developed an online curriculum for music learning. We brought this to ‘market’ over 8 years ago and have thousands of individual users all over the world. More recently, both private and public schools have expressed interest in making our program available to their students. In some cases, it is in lieu of a current music program, others are using DLP as a starter program upon which they will build a full blown program, and still others view it as an economically viable way to offer music to their students (we are able to offer group pricing at a low monthly rate).

    I would be disappointed to learn that our curriculum triggered the demise of an in-school program or teaching job as that was absolutely NOT our intent. Instead, we focus on delivering the same quality information, passion, and care online as we have been offering here at The Dallas School of Music for the past 20 years with the hope that we can create more music makers (and hence, ambassadors) of all kinds and at all ages.

    Perhaps if arts organizations were more entrepreneurial in nature, we could, as a collective entity, foster interest among a larger demographic, and create an environment whereby schools would merely be a starting point for lifelong arts involvement. This seems to me is a win-win situation.

  2. Joan Weber says:

    I cannot accept that this is an either/or question. I believe in both/and. To give myself a metaphor to work with, I began thinking of arts education as a chair with four legs. Together they form a comprehensive arts education program: 1. Certified arts teachers, (sequential instruction); 2. Visits to arts destinations (to demonstrate quality); 3. Visiting teaching artists (to interact with working artists); and 4. Arts integration (to bring the arts into the non-arts classroom). If we buy into the argument that arts organizations will replace certified teachers, I think we will move backwards. The certified teachers must be the schuool’s arts coordinators so that all other things can happen.

  3. Brenda says:

    Maybe an answer is that this is a new model: a partnership that helps ensure the arts remain in schools and helps organizations build stronger connections to their communities. Maybe this ends up being a way to help sustain arts organizations. Maybe this is just the beginning of something stronger in the future that benefits all. (maybe)

  4. Jeff Smith says:

    I agree with Joan that there are multiple pieces to high quality arts education. Our organization provides free after-school arts education on a twice weekly basis in the areas of dance, drama, music, and visual art. Most of the schools that we serve do not offer drama or dance, but do offer some form of music and visual arts instruction. Our programs are not offered instead of, but in addition to the sequential instruction that is offered during the school day. I believe that high quality arts organizations strengthen the argument for ensuring high quality arts instruction during the school day. Our school administrators and teachers see the value of our programs and become advocates for arts education. Every child deserves a comprehensive education in the arts!

  5. As a Teaching Artist, I work frequently for Cultural and Arts organizations around the country. My experience has been that these organizations are genuinely interested in making arts experiences available to all school children and they often subsidize experiences like performances and artist residencies that some schools do not have the resources to afford. The Arts organizations that I have worked for seek to provide professional development for classroom teachers so that those teachers can deliver even just a little arts education to a far greater number of students than a single Teaching Artist could reach. Rather than being detrimental to the long-term sustainability of in-school arts programs, these organizations are “holding down the fort” while schools are in the midst of a long process of determining what comprises a high quality education. They are helping to keep the arts in the conversation, to show the positive effects of arts experiences on students, and to provide even just a fraction of what many schools regretfully cannot provide for their students–at least for now.

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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.