Like in many other states, arts and education leaders in Utah are concerned that children in elementary schools are not receiving high-quality, regular instruction in the arts. As a result of these concerns, a unique and comprehensive set of arts education collaborations is taking shape in the state.
Due in large part to the visionary leadership and financial support of philanthropist Beverley Taylor Sorenson, partnerships between colleges of fine arts and colleges of education, as well as with the state office of education, school districts, and various arts organizations are thriving and growing at an amazing pace.
As a result of these collaborations, people whose paths may otherwise never have crossed are instead working closely together to ensure that Utah children receive an education that includes high-quality arts learning and art-making experiences.
Faculty and administrators within and across universities throughout Utah are working together as never before, collaborating in planning, teaching, researching, community engagement, and advocacy. In March, deans of Utah’s colleges of fine arts and university arts educators met for a statewide “Arts Education Summit” to share successes at their respective institutions and to develop strategic goals for expanding and improving elementary arts education.
Out of that meeting came action items that included the development of a “wiki” for comparing arts education curricular requirements across universities, as well as a plan to expand the reach of the summit to include stakeholders in colleges of education. Then, in July, deans of colleges of fine arts and education met to discuss topics based the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities’ Reinvesting in Arts Education: Winning America’s Future Through Creative Schools report.
Topics of discussion included how university arts and education programs can: build collaborations, expand teaching opportunities for the arts in K-12 schools, influence policymakers to reinforce the place of the arts in schools, widen our research focus to include evidence gathering on K-12 arts education, and prepare pre-service teachers to provide high-quality arts instruction in their future classrooms.
Revising University Curriculum
Traditionally, instruction in elementary arts education at most Utah universities has consisted of elementary arts methods for arts education majors in colleges of fine arts (i.e., music, dance, theatre, visual art), and similar, but less intensive, arts education methods courses for elementary education majors in colleges of education.
This model of arts education instruction is still prevalent at universities across the United States, but faculty and administrators at the University of Utah and other state universities are rethinking how they prepare elementary classroom teachers and elementary arts educators to provide high-quality arts instruction that infuses, and is infused by, other academic subjects.
At the University of Utah, for example, the elementary education curriculum was recently revised to include coursework throughout the entire four years of the degree program that provides rich experiences in art-making and meaningful integration of the arts with other academic learning.
Specifically, in a course developed and taught collaboratively by faculty in all departments of the College of Fine Arts called “Integrating Arts into Academic Learning,” students develop and teach entire integrated units in a local elementary school, culminating with arts “informances” in which their elementary students demonstrate, through the arts, learning outcomes in all subjects.
Providing Arts Education in Schools
Beginning in 2008, the Utah State Legislature funded the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program, which has allowed school districts to hire arts specialists who work side-by-side with classroom teachers in teaching arts core and other academic core content in elementary schools.
An important element of the program is a partnership with Utah universities, which provide professional development for arts specialists and classroom teachers, as well as research and evaluation of program outcomes.
Partnerships between the Utah State Office of Education and universities and school districts have facilitated meaningful collaborations on matters such as arts teaching endorsements, arts curriculum, pre-service and in-service professional development, and advocacy.
Because of the collaborations between various arts and education leaders and stakeholders in Utah, there are many reasons to be optimistic about the future of arts education for our children and for the good things that come as a result of having citizens who engage actively in art-making and who understand and appreciate the arts.