As an arts education advocate who is leading an effort in San Diego to ensure that arts education is not lost in the midst of budget cuts at San Diego Unified School District, I must confess I am a little lost these days.
In the past, it’s been easy. District administration red lines the visual and performing arts department to save money, we advocate to the school board, and the school board approves funding for another year. It’s been this way for at least the last three years. But this year is different.
This year, the pink slips to more than 1,600 teachers were not rescinded in the final hour as they had been every year before. This year, the May revise shows the state budget gap is not $9 billion but almost $16 billion—definitely not what the governor anticipated. In 2009 they projected that the district budget would turn around by 2013. But that’s nowhere near what’s happening. This year it’s a very different ball game.
As a strategist, I take pride in knowing just what tools to use and what angle to take when going to bat for the arts in San Diego City Schools. But I’m at a loss this year. How do we continue to demand that the arts education budget remains intact when 1 in 5 teachers district-wide will be without a job come June unless the board can work with the teachers union and agree to contract concessions?
How do we continue to have faith that it will all work out when California voters refuse to support the taxes needed to ensure that education budgets aren’t decimated and fiscal conservatives in the state legislature think that the only answer is more cuts. And even if the governor’s tax increase proposal is approved by the voters in November, the result the district projects is a flat budget, not an increase, in school funding.
I understand now why so many give up on advocacy (and arts education advocacy in particular). It is hard work. It’s never ending. And lately it seems to be more exhausting than ever. So what can I do?
This year I’m looking forward to finding inspiration by spending three days next week with other arts education advocates at the 2012 Americans for the Arts Annual Convention in San Antonio. We’ve got a great lineup of daily sessions that will inform and inspire.
Starting first thing on Friday morning with something different—a documentary screening and discussion session called Documenting the Importance of Arts Education. We’ll view a new documentary about Chicago’s Albany Park Theatre Project titled “TRUST: Second Acts in Young Lives” and talk about how to use video documentation to speak to the value of arts education in our communities.
There are also several practical sessions planned including an introduction to the new publication from Americans for the Arts, the “Arts Education Field Guide”, that helps you better understand the very complex ecosystem of stakeholders that we encounter when doing advocacy. Another great session on Saturday called Be the Solution helps us think about new ways of becoming allies with our school leaders in support of the arts. The Arts Education Network is focusing on the important role higher education plays in our ecosystem. We often get trapped in thinking of this as a K–12 issue, but it’s so much bigger and interconnected than that. Come talk with your peers about this often overlooked issue.
And to cap it all off we have a coveted Innovation Session slot on Sunday morning for Changing Lives: Arts Education, El Sistema, and a Whole New Set of Possibilities at which Tricia Tunstall the author of the first book on El Sistema will be on hand with teaching artist and writer Eric Booth, to talk about this inspiring music education program that’s taking over our communities.
So if you need a little encouragement to continue fighting the good fight, come reignite your enthusiasm with us in San Antonio (or virtually through Convention On-Demand after the live version concludes).
I hope to see you there.