During a recent episode of “Jeopardy,” the final question required knowledge of both children’s literature and opera. Think Milne’s “Winnie the Pooh” meets Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado.” Only one contestant seemed to know much about either — and he walked away with the cash. I’m guessing there’s an art teacher he ought to be thanking back home.
It’s been heartening to see arts and culture play such a pivotal role in 9/11 anniversary ceremonies. Sunday’s event at the newly opened 9/11 Memorial in NYC featured Yo-Yo Ma, the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, Emi Ferguson, Paul Simon and James Taylor. Opening remarks by Michael Bloomberg quoted Shakespeare, and poetry was prevalent throughout.
Too often our nation forgets all that has been forged by arts and culture, and fails to appreciate the role they can play in moving us forward. So I’m delighted that Congress passed a bill last year designating the second week of September “National Arts in Education Week.”
For those who love the arts, no explanation of their impact or importance is needed. Art is an instinct, in impulse. An adventure of imagination as necessary as air. For others, they seem a mere nicety at best — perhaps because the joys of art never touched their lives as children.
But those unmoved by art’s aesthetic power should recognize its more tangible benefits. Art creates jobs. Creates cities where people want to live. Creates schools full of innovators and imaginators. Maybe even the “creative class” touted by a presidential candidate in his stump speeches.
Ninety percent of Arizonans believe that arts education is either important or very important, according to results of a public opinion poll conducted by ASU in May 2009 — a poll cited in the background report for this year’s Arizona Town Hall, the first of 98 Arizona Town Halls to focus on Arizona arts and culture. www.aztownhall.org.
The Arizona Arts Education section of the report was authored by Mandy Buscas (then director of arts learning for the Arizona Commission on the Arts, now the arts education outreach coordinator for Mesa Arts Center) and Lynn Tuttle (director of arts education for the Arizona Department of Education).
Their work considers results of the 2009 Arts Education Census. It also looks at federal, state and local educational policies — noting that state support for arts in education has suffered significant losses of late due to “efforts to close significant stage budget shortfalls.”
Their reporting on the arts census notes that “20% of schools offered no courses in any arts discipline” and that “79% of schools spend less than $1 per year per student for arts instruction.” This despite the fact that U.S. employers rank creativity/innovation among the top five skills growing in importance.
So what can be done to move Arizona forward? A report issued after the Arizona Town Hall on arts and culture says that “Arizona residents need to speak up, stand for what we support, and make that support known at the ballot box at all levels, from the legislature, to the superintendent of public instruction, and to local school boards.”
It sounds rather daunting if you’re not accustomed to advocating for issues with local and stage officials, but there are plenty of resources to help you get started — including Arizona Citizens Action for the Arts. www.azcitizensforthearts.org.
The report also urges the arts and culture community to partner with the business community to “lobby for improved arts education” — and calls on nonprofit organizations and arts professionals in our communities to “continue augmenting arts education in the schools.” Think artist residencies, school field trips and such.
There’s plenty we can do as parents. Volunteer to help with art projects in the classroom. Coordinate field trips to places like libraries, performing arts venues, museums and exhibit spaces. Donate art-related supplies to local schools. Urge schools to integrate arts learning into other subjects. Vote art at every opportunity.
Folks who separate art from the other disciplines, orchestrating false dichotomies that pit science and math against music and theater should learn more about artists like Emi Ferguson, a distinguished student of both music and epidemiology. Or scientists like Oliver Sacks.
To learn more about arts and education in Arizona, sign up for the free arts learning newsletter from the Arizona Commission on the Arts. www.azarts.gov.
The latest issue features details on the Poetry Out Loud program, a student art competition, an opportunity to participate in the Kennedy Center Partners in Education program, Target field trip grants, teacher workshops and more.
As for the “Jeopardy” answer that won the big bucks, it was “Pooh-bah.”
Note: Additional arts in education resources include the President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities (www.pcah.gov), Americans for the Arts (www.artsusa.org) and the Arts Education Partnership (www.aep-arts.org). Learn more about Mesa Arts Center arts education programs at www.mesaartscenter.com.
Coming up: Country music meets arts and culture, Art meets airport, Who let the cats out?, Shakespeare meets Sweeney Todd