Learning and participation in music, dance, theater, and the visual arts are vital to the development of our children and our communities. Through advocacy, research, partnerships, and professional development, Americans for the Arts strives to provide and secure more resources and support for arts education. Visit AmericansForTheArts.org for more information on the Arts Education Network.

Victoria Ford

My name is Victoria Ford. I’m Southern, I’m black, and I’m an artist. Perhaps you’re wondering—and appropriately so—why I would begin this way.

My introduction is inspired by exciting news. With her recent honor as the 19th U.S. Poet Laureate, Natasha Tretheway is the first Southern writer to hold this prestigious title since Robert Penn Warren. She is also the first African-American Poet Laureate since Rita Dove, who held the post in 1993—almost two decades ago.

That year holds a great deal of weight to me being that it was my birth year, an indication that during the course of my young life there have only been two female black poets, two artists I can closely relate to, who’ve held this title.

Shortly before finishing my first year in college and prior to beginning my internship with Americans for the Arts in Washington, D.C., I’d been invested in answering a particular question: What are the ethnographic implications on my artistic context?

I frame the question this way because I’m not interested in answering the age-old question, “Who am I?”—this I’ve already answered. Rather, “Why am I and what difference does it make?” is a question that I find myself perpetually chasing.

So let’s begin here. Why am I here? Before this internship, before any shatter of a formal arts education, I was 12 and in middle school. It was there that poetry first came alive to me in the form of a friend. I thought of poetry as a sacred language we shared. Something ignited in my relationship with words and images. Writing became less a mandatory school affair and more a site of inexhaustible magic. Read the rest of this entry »

Gregory Burbidge

Last year at the Americans for the Arts Annual Convention, I remember two comments specifically from the town hall session. The first comment was from an emerging leader who thought that it was time for established leaders to move out of the way. It was, at best, nonsense.

Intrinsic Impact?

The second comment, the one that actually bothered me more throughout the full year, was a comment that the person was tired of hearing about the economic impact of arts and culture. They wanted a return to a focus on the intrinsic impact of arts and culture. I didn’t see that person this year, though with the focus of the conference being the release of the Arts & Economic Prosperity IV report, that person may have chosen to skip a year. I myself am data hungry and the report will give me much to chew on.

This year, more than most, the thing I noted was a pleasant drift from intrinsic impact. The subtle drift in a direction I am happy to paddle towards is into the territory of collaboration and a healthy mix of “arts and.” When we listen closely to the needs of our community the arts can help provide answers to many issues. It does require a willingness to be flexible that a focus on intrinsic impact does not necessarily provide.

Arts and…healthcare

Two of the most interesting sessions to me this year explore the intersections of arts and health. Both the intersection of the arts and healing (Art of Healing) and what the arts can do to ease the transition home for our veterans (Boots to Brushes: The Arts Serving Veterans’ Needs) are ways that the arts are meeting at the cross sections of arts and healthcare. Read the rest of this entry »

Mary Garay conducts the Westland Middle School Orchestra.

What a revelation!!  Every day I come to work here at Americans for the Arts and see the big picture of the arts in America and wonder are we making a difference? Are the arts really that important? And the other night, I think I  got my answer.

I went to my son’s middle school’s spring orchestra and band performance and it all came home to me. I couldn’t believe that one teacher, just one, could affect all those kids. I was reminded of just how much we ask our music teachers to do. How do they do it? All those kids learning and paying attention to one person. Ms. Garay is my new hero.

Sometimes we forget why we are doing what we do, but I was so humbled by watching this amazing woman work and affect so many young adults. The arts give these kids a sense of self, build maturity, increase attention span, teamwork, and the ability to do several things at once. Try watching a conductor while blowing on your reed, moving your fingers on your oboes keys, playing in tune and in rhythm. It’s the ultimate in multitasking.

Each day Ms. Garay has the ability to model and teach these kids so many things. How does one teacher get kids to learn to play the oboe, clarinet, saxophone, trumpets, bassoon, tuba, violin, viola, cello, bass, etc? Read the rest of this entry »

Ken Busby

When you hear the phrase, “the new normal,” do you ever stop and wonder what exactly that means? It certainly has become one of the most often-used phrases that we hear today. Everything has a “new normal.” However, there is something important in these three words. Important enough that it’s the theme for this year’s Annual Convention of Americans for the Arts.

Just this past week, the Dow took a dive or a dip (however you want to look at it) because the country isn’t creating enough jobs. Already, analysts are saying that we might be heading toward another recession—just as we are beginning to see daylight from the last one. So what is “the new normal?” Are we in a period of recovery or are things about to look bleak again?

The answer, quite simply, is yes or no—to both or neither. My point being…it doesn’t really matter what the national economy is doing on a daily basis. There are good days and bad days. However, our jobs as nonprofit arts education administrators and providers go on. And we have to find ways to make it all work. Is it easy? No. Is it necessary? Yes! So we do it—we move forward for the good of our organizations and the people and communities that we serve.

To me, “the new normal” is a reminder that every day is a new day, full of possibilities. Whatever we did yesterday, it’s done. We can’t change it. We can learn from it, but then we have to look to the future. What can we bring to the table today that will make a difference in our community tomorrow?  Read the rest of this entry »

A nice welcome sign at the San Antonio airport.

Although some of our staff members were delayed due to weather on route to San Antonio, everyone made it from out our New York and D.C. offices yesterday in preparation for the beginning of our 2012 Americans for the Arts Annual Convention this morning.

Today’s lineup includes the start of our preconferences—Public Art and Emerging Leaders—as well as several meetings of our peer network leadership councils and partners from our Arts & Economic Prosperity IV Study (which will be unveiled live in-person and via webcast on Friday, June 8 at 1:00 p.m. EDT/Noon CDT).

Registration for the main convention officially opens this evening (5:00 p.m. CDT) at the Grand Hyatt San Antonio before we move into the full slate of peer networking, professional development, innovator, and discussion sessions tomorrow morning.

We look forward to the opportunities that our annual meetings bring for our staff and attendees and we hope you’ll join us even if you aren’t in San Antonio via our webcast on Friday and Convention On-Demand (featuring over 30 hours of recorded sessions) which will be available after we depart Texas.

If you are joining us in person, thank you for making the trip and make sure you share your experience with us via comments on new blog posts throughout the weekend (and into next week), tweets (#AFTA12 is our hashtag), Facebook posts, and photos on Flickr.

Nancy Kelly

On Friday, June 8, I’ll be presenting my award-winning documentary TRUST: Second Acts in Young Lives during the 2012 Americans for the Arts Annual Convention in a session titled, “Documenting the Importance of Arts Education.”

The film follows Marlin, an 18-year-old Hondureña, who shares a hidden history about her childhood with a theater company in her Chicago neighborhood, the renowned Albany Park Theater Project.

Marlin’s story is about resilience and empowerment. TRUST captures the amazing response from her fellow actors and the unexpected journey her story takes them on together: they transform Marlin’s story into a daring, original play and Marlin re-claims power over the narrative of her life story.

TRUST is about creativity and the unexpected resources inside teens who may be discounted because of their youth, race, or ethnicity or because they come from under-resourced neighborhoods without access to arts programs.

Woven through TRUST are three main themes: the transformative power of art, the continuing challenges facing immigrants, and the trauma of child sexual abuse. Like the legs of a three-legged stool, these themes are interdependent and not prioritized.

Here is a preview of the film:

Read the rest of this entry »

Victoria Plettner-Saunders

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Pennsylvania is quickly becoming a hotbed for arts education advocacy. Just a little over a week ago, I found this video from York, showing how students protested the loss of art and music in a proposed budget.

Today, I became aware of a movement in Upper Darby (just outside of Philadelphia) under the banner Save Upper Darby Arts. This group came together to advocate for a well-rounded education that includes “music, art, library studies, physical education, technology, and foreign language curricula” at a time that many districts are choosing to cut some or all of these classes in order to save money.

This well-made video explains everything you need to know…

Well, almost.

In addition to their main website, Save Upper Darby Arts has also created a petition, Facebook page, and Twitter account to back their campaign. Read the rest of this entry »

Jessica Wilt

Another school year draws to a close and I feel like I’m out of control spinning all over the boroughs of New York City from one commitment to the other with “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” playing in my head. Is anyone else out there spinning round like a record, baby? Okay, that makes me sound old.

Next month I’ll be leading a Career360 Roundtable session at the 2012 Americans for the Arts Annual Convention in San Antonio. The topic: Community Involvement: Taking the “I Shoulds” Out of Your Life.

I chuckled upon my realization at how perfect the topic of overcommitment is for me; hence, the spinning-out-of-control vertigo I’m now experiencing.

Many arts administrators are expected to serve on panels, boards, and committees in addition to joining advocacy-related campaigns and other volunteer activities outside of the day-to-day full time job.

I’d like to explore this “I should or I shouldn’t” conversation a bit. Are arts administrators volunteer-driven because of their love for the field? Because there seems to be unspoken expectations? Out of necessity? Or a combination of all three?

I volunteer my time and energy mainly because I am passionate about arts education. I enjoy being connected to networks outside of my job, learning new things, traveling, and meeting some really interesting people…but sometimes it can feel overwhelming. Read the rest of this entry »

Upon hearing that the York City School District School Board in Pennsylvania was considering eliminating art, music, guidance counselors, and some sports to help balance the budget, arts education supporters rallied for the cause.

They even had band members play outside of the meeting deciding their fate.

This is exactly the type of simple advocacy that draws the attention of local media and the members of the school board. Check out their rally and excellent student and parent comments from the York Daily Record website:

In the end, five art and music positions were restored by the board as well as three guidance counselor positions and the football, basketball, volleyball, and track programs.

If you have any examples of local school board advocacy at work, tell us in the comments below and if you want to know more about the many influences on local arts education programs, be sure to check out our arts education webinar series (free to members of Americans for the Arts or $35 per session).

Jason Yoon

One of my first “real” jobs was as an art specialist at a start-up charter elementary school. We did a lot of grading. The school was developing a comprehensive academic scope and sequence. Report cards reflected maybe 100-some skills and standards by subject. Teachers spent hours assessing each student.

As an idealistic young educator, the complexity of the thing was actually exciting. I couldn’t wait to see my “enrichment” section of the report card and the skills and standards in the arts I was responsible for. I then found that I had the smallest section of the report card:

Enrichment

1

2

3

4

   Attitude
   Effort

4=Excellent 3=Good 2=Needs work 1=Seriously deficient

That’s it?

This school had mapped skills and standards to the minutest details and I only got two vague behaviors? I wanted credit for teaching my kids important and real things too!

I bring this up not to criticize the school. The school has expanded admirably since, received national recognition, expanded their arts programs and I figure now has a more robust method for assessing arts learning.

In that small example, is the dilemma that faces the art world right? We want to be taken seriously.

And one message is that we can get there by being graded and measured in easy-to-digest numbers like other subjects or fields. The institutional message then was that I was just the art teacher. Put simply, the school’s charter probably wasn’t going to be revoked if my kids couldn’t paint.

But we have to be careful not to adopt the fallacies of the “accountability” movement, too. Read the rest of this entry »

Stephanie Riven

I recently spent a semester at Harvard as a visiting practitioner in the Arts in Education Program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

While working directly with the Arts in Education Program, I was also able to audit classes at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and attend special lectures and programs sponsored by the Harvard Business School. Needless to say, the entire experience was fascinating on many levels.

As one might expect, the differences between the course offerings and student culture in the above mentioned schools were striking—yet many of the future challenges students in these different institutions will face are the same.

Based on my experience, the talented students in the Arts in Education Program tended to orient themselves towards issues related to process—the process of learning and the integration of concepts in advocacy, education, research, and policy. Though each of these students expressed a deep commitment to their work, many also expressed trepidation about entering an uncertain job market that is famously under-resourced and socially marginalized.

By comparison, the students I encountered at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and Harvard Business School were excited about their potential to begin something new. They were learning how to become entrepreneurs by developing skills related to organizing, team-building, and risk-taking while they were also growing in their understanding of how to garner financial, cultural, and social capital for their future ventures. Read the rest of this entry »

Photo by Jesse Banks III

Photo by Jesse Banks III

Going into high school, you’re still trying to figure out who you are. It became apparent to me why people had existential crises. It’s hard to find out who you are when no one knows your name. When I started high school, I was no longer Carolina Jimenez or CJ.I became my student number (8259745).                       

Locker number (367)

My GPA (2.3)

My test scores (97 percentile in English; 35 percentile in Math; 85 percentile in Writing/Reading; I still have no clue what that means…)

I became more obsessed with how I looked on paper than what I was learning. I felt myself being remodeled from a human being into a receptacle for lectures and test scores. Learning should result from curiosity, not obligation.

~ Carolina Jimenez, May 2010 (senior year of high school) Read the rest of this entry »

Mark Rodriguez

Upon reviewing a blog entry about The Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth study released by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) earlier this month, I ran across a respondent who stated, “It’s great to have all of these studies, but how does it help me and my organization? How can small or midsized arts organizations measure their impact without the resources of large institutions like the NEA?”

The following shares the story of how Changing Worlds, a midsized Chicago-based educational arts nonprofit went from basic surveys and pre- and post-residency exercises to a longitudinal study that improved our practice, reaffirmed the quality of our program, and helped build an organizational culture of inquiry.

In 2003, I became the executive director of a small start-up nonprofit that had little to no infrastructure in place to assess its programs. We had lots of informal data and some feedback from program partners. I knew immediately that if we were going to grow, thrive and succeed, we had to identify our unique niche, solidify our program model and select program inquiry questions we wanted to explore.

From 2003–2008, we went through various renditions of evaluation tools and we even contracted with three independent evaluation consultants. After five years, we learned some new things, developed the basic capacity to measure the impact of our residency programs and invested lots of time. While this helped us gain insight into our short-term impact, it didn’t address the potential long-term impact and implications of our program. Read the rest of this entry »

Raymond Tymas Jones

National Arts Advocacy Day is significant because it grants us an opportunity to gather as a community to reflect on the role of contemporary artists in the 21st century. No matter what the chosen art form, the passion to do art and to be art is born out of an insatiable yearning to make beauty, to make sense, and even to make waves.

As artists, we are summoned to bear witness of the truth of the human experience…the human condition and truth is more than simply facts. It is realness of life that is imbued with the psychological, emotional, spiritual elements of living that is not always easily accessible. It is this sense of urgency to communicate that artists find avenues to connect through music, theatre, film, dance, art, and literature.

For example, the powerful play by American playwright Stephen Adly Guigis, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, explores in a witty, provocative, and sometimes-funny manner, questions about love and redemption through the story of a man who is considered the most notorious villain in human history. The genesis of this kind of art is the visceral reality that only comes from self-understanding. It is the quest for self-understanding that gives way to constant questioning, observing, celebrating, and revering the complexity, mystery, and beauty of humanity. Self-understanding fortifies us from self-deception and easy consolations.

We, as artists, are the first beneficiaries of the power of the arts to tell our personal story that mirrors our own realities. Each of us can be an alchemist, taking our ideas and understanding of the world around us along with our imagination and creativity to transform them into precious elements of universal elixir. Read the rest of this entry »

Why Ask For More?
Just like kids need to have good nutrition on a daily basis, kids need to have their daily serving of the arts. Chances are, though, that your kids are not getting enough art—in or out of school. The arts are much more than just fun "extra" activities for kids. Studies have shown the far-reaching benefits of an arts education. Visit The Arts. Ask for More. Public Awareness Campaign Website.

 

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