From the mouths of teens, why arts funding should not be cut from schools

A few weeks ago, I volunteered for the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers (under Scholastic Inc.) to help run their annual Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.  Hundreds of middle school and high school students gathered from around the country to be recognized for outstanding visual art works or writing submissions. After seeing samples of some of the works from the award recipients, I was completely in awe at the amount of talent that surrounded me, especially at such a young age.

I was also blown away by their responses to the issue of arts funding. One of my jobs as volunteer was to survey the visual art students about their experience of taking art classes, so that their responses could be used in a campaign to keep arts programs in schools. The answers that I got from the students were amazing, so insightful and honest, many even profoundly philosophical about why art is important. I was so impressed with their responses, that I’d like to share some of them here. What follows are some anonymous responses from high school students to the last question of the survey (stated in their exact words).

Why is it not a good time to cut school art programs?

  • Why would any time be a good time to cut art classes in school?
  • It’s like dreaming – it gives anyone a reason to wake up in the morning.
  • It defines our culture and shapes America.
  • Now more than ever, students need to know there are all different ways to be happy.
  • Because creativity is the only thing to get us out of our current predicament
  • Cutting art programs would deprive the world of a generation of package and graphic designers.
  • We need a voice.
  • Because art lets us express individuality, and without that, what are we?
  • Kids will become more like horses with blinders, not observing everything.
  • In troubled times, art is the only thing we can turn to that makes sense.
  • If you get rid of someone’s creativity, you get rid of their reasons to live.
  • Because art is a very important part of everybody’s education, not just those interested in art
  • Because art is a root to what makes us human

It’s great  for teachers and parents to fight for arts programming in school, but I think it’s so wonderful to hear it from the students themselves. Their responses are such inspiring words for why arts in general are so important in our country, now and always. With such bright and talented young people, I am hopeful for the future. But I’m also struck with the need to keep nourishing these young creators through arts education, and to keep promoting art across the country.

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Teaching teachers to use dance in the classroom

                                           Photo by Tanner Dance Staff

I recently heard about an interesting (and apparently successful) arts education program in Salt Lake City, Utah. Here’s the scoop: the University of Utah has a community dance program, which has a performing arm called the Children’s Dance Theatre, which has an outreach program called Side-by-Side Teacher Training Residency (SBS). Basically, SBS is a year-long program in public grade schools where dance faculty from the Children’s Dance Theatre give dance instruction to students while also training the teacher to lead dance exercises and implement dance into classroom lessons. Since the program began in 1994, there has been a positive impact in and out of the classroom, and the requests from teachers to participate have exceeded the abilities of the SBS dance specialists.

So let’s see: 1) Children are introduced to dance at an early age; 2) Dance is taught by qualified specialists from a university program; 3) Students learn to use dance as a tool and a means of expression; 4) Teachers are taught how to teach dance & use it in the classroom; 5) Dance influence spreads exponentially as more teachers are trained & more students are influenced. It all sounds pretty great to me.

Apparently it sounded pretty great to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) also. (more…)