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06 Mar. 2018 | Comments (0)

A presidential commission looking at the state of American schools concluded that funding for arts education is “on a downward trend” thanks to widespread budget constraints and an increasing emphasis on high-stakes testing. The result, the report said, is that “just when they need it most, the classroom tasks and tools that could best reach and inspire students—art, music, movement and performing—are less available to them.”

That was written in 2011, and the practice of sacrificing art courses whenever education budgets get tight has grown even more pronounced since then. It is particularly a problem, as the report pointed out, in “lower-income schools, where access to the arts is disproportionately absent.” The upshot, all too often, is a curriculum that fails to spark students’ curiosity or stimulate a love of learning.

The damage is inflicted not only on the students, but on the nation’s economic health. To compete successfully in the global economy, America needs workers who are not only well-trained in technical subjects such as math, science and engineering, but also possess strong creative and critical thinking skills. There is nothing else that instills those qualities in young people like the arts.

What’s more, repeated studies have shown that students who have a strong education in the arts are very active within their school communities, are less likely to engage in delinquent behaviors or use drugs, and are more likely to go on to college.

A solid grounding in the arts improves student performance in other classes too. To quote again from the presidential report, “Reinvesting in Arts Education: Winning America’s Future Through Creative Schools,” “Arts-rich schools (are) where teachers and visiting artists use the magic of the arts to illuminate literature, social studies, math, science, and other subjects.”

If you think art classes are a waste of money because they don’t lead to jobs, think again. Nearly 5 million Americans work in the arts and culture industries. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the commercial, performing and fine arts contributed $730 billion to our GDP annually—more than construction, transportation, and travel and tourism.

Let me add to this my personal conviction that there could no better time to make arts classes a major part of every school’s curriculum because it is a field undergoing enormous and exciting changes as it become increasingly intertwined with technology.

This new technological dimension means art is being globalized. More and more, it is something for a universal audience rather than just the 1 percent. And the definition of who is or is not an artist is no longer limited by the old standards of style, geography or gender.

Technology is bringing us art from around the world. Think, for example, of the growing interest in the art of Latin America, which until recently has been largely ignored by the major museums, galleries and patrons. And as technology’s continues to open new pathways, I believe women artists will gain much more of the stature and recognition that have been withheld from them for so long.

Technology is also developing entirely new ways to paint, sculpt, and design by introducing new materials and new ways of treating old materials. Some artists, for example, are shrinking paper fibers and gluing them down on paper, canvas, boards or other surfaces to create new kinds of images and add a new dimension to the visual experience.

And if you’re still wondering how practical arts courses can be, bear in mind that MIT—that world-renowned center of technological teaching and innovation—is blending art into a variety of courses like, for instance, architectural design.

Former U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan one said, “The process of making art—whether is it written, performed, sculpted, photographed, filmed, danced, or painted—prepares children for success in the workforce not simply as artists, but all professions.”

That is exactly right. In a world in which the marriage of art and technology is becoming increasingly influential, the need to keep the arts alive and well in American classrooms in more urgent than ever.

This piece was originally published by Stamford Advocate.

  • About the Author: Grace Cho

    Grace Cho

    Grace founded Orangenius on the premise that artists were lacking the necessary tools and resources they needed to thrive in the creative economy. With over 25 years of experience in the financial ser…

    Full Bio | More from Grace Cho

     

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