Back to School Arts Education Checklist

Posted by Stephanie Milling On July - 30 - 2014
Stephanie Milling

Stephanie Milling

With the end of the summer rapidly approaching, it is time to start thinking about the new school year. Even though I have been living on an academic calendar most of my life, I never get tired of the excitement and exhilaration that accompanies new beginnings. As a college professor, the new year provides a time to develop an artistic and educational vision for the future and determine how I will guide students in their learning. As we wrap up summer looking forward into the fall, it is time to consider what should be on our back-to-school checklist. In addition to planning curriculum, it is necessary to consider the arts education advocacy agenda for the year ahead and our role in supporting its continued benefits to students around the country.

We all know that under Federal law, the arts are a considered core subject area. However, we have to continue to advocate on behalf of arts education in order to keep it viable for future generations. As you enter the year, make sure that you are approaching arts education as a NECESSARY part of every child’s (and adult’s) education. In order to approach advocating for arts education in the most effective manner, know the issues, the resources available, and how to ensure that your message is heard!

I get the impression that sometimes people feel overwhelmed by advocacy work. However, most of the information you need is already compiled. Locate it! Make it personal based upon your work and/or geographic location! And, network, network, network! See the list below for your back-to-school arts advocacy checklist.

  1. Find data that supports arts education, and use it to your advantage.

Whether you are a parent, teacher, administrator, and/or any other interested party, knowing the current landscape of Arts Education in the United States can help you advocate for arts education. Data is power, and it is easy to find. For example, the website for Americans for the Arts always contains helpful information on Arts Education Policy and Funding and other resources such as the Arts Education Navigator Series, which provides data that demonstrate the benefit of arts education and helpful tips on how to advocate. Some additional recent reports that you might find of interest are Arts Education in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools: 1999-2000 and 2009-10 published by the National Center for Education Statistics and Arts Education in the South: Phase I by South Arts. Use what you need to make your case. People have already done the heavy lifting by supplying you with the data. All you have to do is use it!

  1. Know the stakeholders who impact arts education in your area.

See the Arts Education Navigator Series on the Americans for the Arts website to understand the various “spheres of influence” that play a part in the success of arts education in this country. Who are the stakeholders in your area? How do they influence policy and education? How can you appeal to their interests when presenting the benefits of arts education? Whose interests do they represent? Find your audience and share your story.

  1. Join and continue to Build Advocacy Networks.

What advocacy networks already exist in your area? How are your professional associations involved in advocacy networks and partnerships? Advocacy networks are a powerful way to make your message heard and garner support for your ask. Joining the advocacy networks in your area can provide you with the most current information regarding arts education in your state. In addition, you can sign up for email alerts that directly notify you when issues relating to the arts arise. The Arts Action Fund is a great network that keeps advocates informed of the latest developments relating to arts education policy and funding. No research necessary as messages come right into your inbox! Encourage your colleagues to be knowledgeable of arts education agendas as well. Remember, there is power in numbers!

  1. Collaborate!

The best way to build an arts education/advocacy network is to collaborate with others. There are different models of collaboration that provide opportunities for short and long-term partnerships. Does it make sense to share resources with another organization and/or educational institution? Are there projects that you could work on together that would be mutually beneficial? Are there grants programs that fund collaborative projects that could provide both the financial support for your work as well as continuing professional relationships?

  1. Gather your own data

What work are you doing that matters? How does it align with the current data used to advocate on behalf of arts education now? How can you use current data to shape the arts education work that you do?

Be patient. It takes time! The arts are a long term investment. The capital gains we see through the benefits of arts education outweigh the minimal amount of time it takes to advocate. Continued efforts do make a difference. Keep vigilant, and begin the school year by determining how to support arts education in your daily life.

“This Must Be Your Down Time!”

Posted by Janet Starke On July - 29 - 2014
Janet Starke

Janet Starke

Raise your hand if you’ve heard this one. It is the inevitable statement that numerous friends and colleagues make to me each summer (most still trying to determine precisely what I do for a living).

“So, what do you do when school is out?”

“This must be your slow time of year, right, when the schools are out?”

Of course, they are well-intentioned and demonstrating genuine interest in our work and what we (actually) do, but the simple answer is NO! Read the rest of this entry »

VADA/Artist Collab to hit the streets of the Funk Zone

Posted by Calico Brown On July - 28 - 2014
Calico Brown

Calico Brown

VADA, the Visual Arts & Design Academy at Santa Barbara High School, is thrilled to announce a very special mural collaboration project with artists Joe Shea and Yoskay Yamamato. The artists will work with VADA students on a series of mural paintings, which will then be installed on the Anacapa Project building in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone.

Visual Arts & Design Academy

Visual Arts & Design Academy

VADA is a “school‐within‐a‐school” that integrates rigorous academic coursework with project‐based, career‐focused, and art & design instruction in a supportive and creative environment. VADA serves 175 students in grades 10 through 12 at a culturally and economically diverse urban high school in downtown Santa Barbara. VADA teachers collaborate to create a thematically and conceptually integrated curriculum. Field trips to major Southern California museums and design firms, artist residencies, guest speakers, mentorships, and internships give students exposure to and experience in the creative sector. Read the rest of this entry »

The Value of Community-Based Arts Education

Posted by Matt D'Arrigo On July - 22 - 2014
Matt D'Arrigo

Matt D’Arrigo

Say the words “arts education” and most likely you think of K-12, classroom-based, standards-based arts instruction tied to the school curriculum. (You may also think that there’s an extreme lack of this happening in the current school system, and you would be right.)

When I attended my first National Arts Education Council meeting for Americans for the Arts this past January, the question was posed: “What is arts education”? After some awkward silence and darting eyes, council members began expressing their perspectives on what arts education meant to them. What emerged was a kaleidoscope of approaches and contexts: classroom-based and community based, during school and after school, arts integration and arts education, K-12/higher education/life-long learning, arts as education and arts as social service, etc. Read the rest of this entry »

ArtSpeak! Does the Talking for Shugoll Research

Posted by Mark Shugoll On July - 16 - 2014
Mark Shugoll

Mark Shugoll

A little Broadway trivia: What “role” have Broadway superstars Patti LuPone, Kristin Chenoweth, Audra McDonald, Sutton Foster and Kelli O’Hara all played? Answer: they’ve all played the “role” of guest actors through ArtSpeak!, a program created, produced, and underwritten by Shugoll Research to bring Broadway stars into public schools.

ArtSpeak! will be starting its 18th year in Washington, D.C. area schools this September when Patti LuPone appears at Blake High School in Silver Spring, Maryland. Ms LuPone will be interviewed about her career on stage in Blake’s high school auditorium, answer student questions, sign autographs and, best of all, sing three songs. Can you imagine if multi-Tony Award winner Patti LuPone performed in your high school? Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by Raymond Tymas-Jones On July - 16 - 2014
Raymond Tymas-Jones

Raymond Tymas-Jones

Each day the need for continuous engagement in higher learning is evident.  All sectors of society depend on the advanced new knowledge and full development of all human talent.  To that end, every citizen’s capacity to expand and acquire increased global learning for the express purpose of addressing the world’s urgent challenges and problems—economic, ethical, political, intercultural, and environmental—becomes more and more paramount.  Recently, there has been enormous emphasis placed on the need for greater exploration in areas such as the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). While the need for advanced new knowledge in the STEM fields is unquestionable, the development of all human talent requires equal emphasis in the arts and humanities.  Nevertheless, the key is not found in a silo approach but in an integrative or collaborative model. Read the rest of this entry »

Mark Golden

Mark Golden

Art groups, whether visual or performing arts groups, come hat in hand to our businesses every day. Those of us who feel extraordinarily generous shell out some funds for a listing in their program or catalogue, or sponsor a performance or program. We often take this from our donations budget, which in order to be tax deductible expense, has to be below 10% of our net profit. This money, of course, is taken away from other needs of the philanthropic budget which is a small part of even the most socially responsible business list of expenses.

It may make you feel really good, but just consider what you could do to benefit your business if you started to allocate some money for the arts from your Marketing budget, or even your HR Development budget (now these are real budgets, not based on your net profit but a significant portion of your gross sales). Let’s call it enlightened self-interest!

The business community has been rocked by the speed of change. We recognize the value of higher tech solutions to our organizations, but it is clear that there is an even greater urgency for creative, innovative thinking that comes from training in the arts. Whether it’s corporate training in problem solving, diversity, performing in public, change management–businesses are recognizing that our new employees, so well versed in their technical fields, lack some of the basic requisite skills we need in this new environment. Read the rest of this entry »

Intro to the Arts Programs Enhanced by Vans Custom Culture Grants

Posted by Jeff Poulin On July - 14 - 2014
Jeff Poulin

Jeff Poulin

Earlier this summer, you may have read Kristen Engerbretsen’s, Americans for the Arts’ Education Program Manager, blog post about the final event of the 2013-14 Vans Custom Culture program in NYC. It was an exciting, inspiring and high-octane event honoring some of the most innovative shoe designs I have ever seen. Being able to spend time with Vans employees – a company that values the arts as a vital part of education, community and life as told by their Brand Manager in this blog – and the students whom they work with as part of this program, was definitely one for the books!

However, did you know that the Custom Culture program doesn’t end with a big party in NYC? Read the rest of this entry »

Too Big To Fail

Posted by Erin Gough On July - 11 - 2014
Erin Gough

Erin Gough

One of the wonderful things about the annual Americans for the Arts’ Annual Convention is that the discussions held there reverberate beyond the days of the conference and beyond the people who were able to participate in person. As someone who was unable to attend, I was so pleased to be able read about, and dig into, some of the dialogues that were held last month in Nashville.

My interest was piqued when I read Devon Smith’s piece on the fate of failing arts organizations. She dives into a debate session held at convention on the controversial but essential argument that as an arts community, we too often distribute scare resources to keep struggling organizations on life-support when it may be more beneficial for the arts ecosystem as a whole to let them die gracefully. Read the rest of this entry »

Innovators, Interventions, and Instruction

Posted by Malissa Feruzzi Shriver On June - 20 - 2014
Malissa Feruzzi Shriver

Malissa Feruzzi Shriver

Nashville is not for the faint of heart, and neither is an Americans for the Arts’ conference. There were scheduled sessions that ran until midnight, where some of the panelists broke into song, and early bird specials—eight AM, lights, camera, action.  Nashville has nothing on Americans for the Arts, and Americans for the Arts has something for everyone.  More than one thousand arts advocates enjoyed networking, performances, and fascinating panels, myself included.  Convention themes ran from arts and community to building core skills (does being on your feet for fourteen hours build core strength too?), embracing diversity, reinvention and sustainability, and supply and demand. This conference was definitely not short on supply, and judging from the attendance, demand was high.

I was impressed on so many levels. Four jam-packed days of sessions, exhibitors, meet and greets, and all the big organizations, big names and big ideas. I learned about public art and placemaking, leadership skill development, and how art can translate data, and was fascinated by topics like engaging the biases, values and privileges underneath your work. I am grateful that AFTA organizes these conferences to invest in our field, inform leaders, and stimulate dialogue about relevance and sustainability. Read the rest of this entry »

Students Embrace Their Creativity through Custom Culture

Posted by Kristen Engebretsen On June - 18 - 2014

A winning school is picked by vote, based on a set of four uniquely designed VANS shoes.

Editors Note: Americans for the Arts has partnered with VANS for the past two years on their Custom Culture program. Last night in New York City was the final event, where the winning shoe design was picked. Below are remarks that our Arts Education Program Manager made during the event:

Hello, my name is Kristen, and I’m the Arts Education Program Manager at Americans for the Arts. Whether you like to sing in the shower, dance like no one is watching, or design the next great VANS shoe, we want to support that. Our motto is “All the Arts for All the People.”

We firmly believe that the arts have the power to transform lives. In fact, last year we had the privilege of featuring an artist at our annual convention named Inocente. Her story is nothing short of incredible. As a teenager, Inocente was homeless, the victim of abuse, and the daughter to undocumented immigrants. Her life had hit rock bottom until one day she walked into an arts center in San Diego called A Reason to Survive. She began painting, and indeed, it gave her a reason to survive. She graduated from high school and selling her art kept her from living on the streets. Her powerful transformation was featured in the Oscar winning documentary, Inocente.

Inocente designed these as an ambassador for Custom Culture.

Inocente designed these as an ambassador for Custom Culture.

Americans for the Arts knows that learning in the arts enables every individual to develop the critical thinking, collaborative, and creative skills necessary to not only survive but thrive in today’s ever-changing world. And so when VANS approached us a few years ago about partnering on Custom Culture, we could see that they too value the arts as an integral part of all students’ education. Together we hope to encourage high school students to embrace their creativity and inspire a new generation of youth culture. Read the rest of this entry »

Teaching Artists Help a School District Restore Arts Education

Posted by Erika Boardman Kraft On June - 18 - 2014
Laura Norman

Laura Norman

Erika Boardman Kraft

Erika Boardman Kraft

Can the work teaching artists do in school districts impact a district’s long-term arts programming?  Absolutely!, as illustrated by the Twin Rivers Unified School District in northern Sacramento, California.

Founded in 2008 when four districts merged, Twin Rivers Unified School District saw more than $100 million in state cuts during its first three years of existence. This exacerbated an already difficult situation for arts education in the district composed of primarily Title I schools.  Most elementary schools had no credentialed arts specialists in any of the disciplines. Middle schools had a few arts education offerings, often available only as electives, and the arts programming in the high schools varied by school, but did not come close to matching what more affluent districts in the region could offer or what the state mandates.

In spite of this, the district’s arts education leadership was determined to provide what arts education programming they could, using resources from the local arts community. They brought in programming from the region’s arts organizations, found grants to take students to arts events, and contracted with regional teaching artists for residencies and workshops. Read the rest of this entry »

Cara Scharf

Cara Scharf

The following is an interview with Americans for the Arts’ Senior Director of Arts Policy Marete Wester. Conducted by Cara Scharf, it was originally published in ArtsLine, the Drexel Arts Administration quarterly newsletter focusing on the program, the arts and culture sector, and the students’ perspective.

Marete Wester’s professional journey started in the mid-80s with a Masters in Arts Administration from Drexel University and landed her at national arts service organization Americans for the Arts in 2006. As Senior Director of Arts Policy, Wester brings the voice of the arts field to policy discussions nationwide. This means cultivating partnerships and convening meetings with a diverse group of organizations to show how the arts play a role in quality-of-life issues such as the environment and education. One recent example of her work is the National Initiative for Arts and Health in the Military, which works to expand access to and research on the arts as effective tools in the care of service members. I spoke with Marete about her work and experience in Drexel’s program.

Read the rest of this entry »

Deb Vaughn

Deb Vaughn

Funders are increasingly skeptical of the impact that a short-term interaction with an artist has on students, especially those who may count those four hours as their only arts experience for the year.

But despair not! There are ways to make the most of those limited contact hours. A recent best practices sharing session of The Right Brain Initiative illuminated several ways to make the artist-student time really count. Read the rest of this entry »

A New Vision for Arts Education

Posted by Ayanna Hudson On May - 28 - 2014
Ayanna Hudson

Ayanna Hudson

The Arts Endowment’s vision is that every student is engaged and empowered through an excellent arts education. This statement reflects a fundamental belief that all students should have the opportunity to participate in the arts, both in school and out of school. It also acknowledges the very real benefits of an arts education—students participating in the arts are engaged in life and are empowered to be fulfilled, responsible citizens who make a profound, positive impact on this world. I’d like to share with you what the NEA has learned about how to achieve this vision and steps we are taking to move this vision forward. Read the rest of this entry »

ARTSblog holds week-long Blog Salons, a series of posts by guest bloggers, that focus on an overarching theme within a core area of Americans for the Arts' work. Here are links to the most recent Salons:

Arts Education

Teaching Artists

Early Arts Education

Common Core Standards

Quality, Engagement & Partnerships

Emerging Leaders

Charting the Future of the Arts

Taking Communities to the Next Level

New Methods & Models

Public Art

Best Practices


Arts Marketing

Audience Engagement

Winning Audiences

Powered by Community

Animating Democracy

Arts & the Military

Scaling Up Programs & Projects

Social Impact & Evaluation

Humor & Social Change

Private Sector Initatives

Arts & Business Partnerships

Business Models in the Arts

Local Arts Agencies

Cultural Districts

Economic Development

Trends, Collaborations & Audiences

Art in Rural Communities

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.