Commentary: Divisions within arts education community diminish advocacy efforts

From the Sept 2011 final report on the Teaching Artist Research Project [hat tip to 20 Under 40]

There are two headlines in arts education today. The first is that after a century of steady growth both in schools and out, there has been a significant decline in the proportion of American children who have taken classes or lessons in the arts. African American and Hispanic children have absorbed nearly the entire decline. The second headline is that a substantial number of teaching artists have moved beyond the community venues in which they have taught for more than a century and into the schools for the first time. They have mitigated, but not reversed, the decline, and they have brought arts education and innovative practices to schools where they are badly needed. It would seem logical that any strategy to reverse the broad decline in arts education, any effort to distribute arts education more equitably in American schools, or any effort to extend the successes of arts education programs in schools would include teaching artists as a critical element....The fiercest objections to TAs' work in schools, improbably, have come from parts of the arts education community itself, especially professional associations of arts educators. They have argued that TAs lack the training to be expert educators, no matter how expert they may be in their art form, and that they cannot deliver standards-based arts instruction as mere visitors in schools. Some also have argued that arts integration is a damaging diversion from disciplinary curriculum and the state arts standards. Behind both of these issues, of course, is concern about the long-term erosion of positions for arts faculty in public schools, and a perception that TAs represent a kind of low-cost outsourcing that enables the erosion. These divisions within the arts education community undoubtedly diminish the efficacy of advocacy for arts education.

Commentary: Don't just write a letter to advocate for arts education

Victoria Saunders of San Diego Alliance for Arts Education, Americans for the Arts blog, 9/30/11

While I believe that public comment and letter writing are important components of advocacy, I am also an evangelist for developing a working relationship with those to whom you are directing your efforts. In this case, it's our local school board. Most recently, the school board asked community members to assist with [getting] new information and an outside perspective about the way various district departments do business. Our report provided the board with its first-ever overview of the Visual and Performing Arts Department. Our final report had several recommendations including: 1) hiring a business development coordinator who can support revenue enhancement (grants, partnerships, sponsorships) and 2) the commitment to establishing a task force on strategic planning and embarking on a district-wide strategic plan for arts education. Since we submitted our report, we've taken meetings with board members to talk about the recommendations. I also took a meeting with the administrator who is charged with providing the district's staff response to the report. He asked for assistance in crafting their recommendations because "he didn't want to write his response in isolation." It took me a minute to realize that not only did the board ask us to provide them with policy recommendations, but then the staff asked us to help them with their response to our recommendations. Of course, I directed them to our suggestions and together we found a way for the staff to propose to the board what we wanted the board to propose themselves. Wild, huh? So what's the advocacy lesson here? Had we stopped at letter writing and public comment, we would have never been able to influence decision making at so many levels in the organization.


Commentary: Can a hit TV series be an effective advocate for arts education?

Alyssa Rosenberg,, 9/22/11

[This season on the TV series Glee, the character of] Sue Sylvester is running for Congress, and channeling Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, who this year destroyed his state's arts agency, meaning Kansas can't get National Endowment for the Arts funding, which she's decided to make her central campaign platform:

"You know what's getting me down in Western Ohio? The arts in public schools. Why? Because America is failing. China is on our ass, people. This isn't the 1960s anymore, when jobs were plentiful...The arts are expensive, and we can't afford it anymore...I will suspend all public school arts programs and reject all federal and state funding for the arts until every student reads at or above grade level."

Now, obviously a member of the House can't turn down arts funding on behalf of their state. But otherwise? Economic and competitiveness insecurity? Check. Treatment of the arts as if they're a luxury? Check. Folks responding to these kinds of attacks by whipping out arguments about the efficacy of the arts rather than their intrinsic worth? Cue Mr. Schue, who comes back at Sue with "The arts help kids do better in school. Kids in the arts record the lowest instance of substance abuse," before retreating further by explaining that he really just needs job security because he wants to start a family with...a woman he hasn't slept with yet. I mean, this is Glee. It would be too much to expect full-on emotional coherence.  But still, it's Glee actually setting up a season-long arc that makes sense - for the first time since the first season, the Glee Club actually has an imperative to perform to survive, and the stakes are larger than simply disbanding the club. If they can stick with it longer than an episode, and come up with tactics more convincing than Will glittering Sue, the show will actually be contributing to an ongoing national debate about state and federal arts budgets.


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Quote of the Day: "The school year is off to a great start and we're having fun."

Posted by Donna Collins on the Ohio Alliance for Arts Education website, 9/26/11

"Whenever you ask someone who works in arts education how they're doing, invariably they reply, with exhaustion, 'Busy. Very busy.' Well, here at Muse Machine we're busy, too, just like everyone else...and what a boring answer! Instead, lately I've answered that question by saying,'We're having fun! The school year is off to a great start and we're having fun.' Because it's true. I try to remind myself every morning when I get to the office that I need to relax a bit, because I'm not going to cure cancer today...nor am I going to save any babies...but what I will do is provide opportunities for the thousands of students we serve to HAVE FUN at school today. How? Through the joyful engagement with learning that occurs whenever children participate in the arts. Whether it's through an arts-integrated lesson plan that a teacher created through Muse Machine professional development; or through an arts performance that Muse Machine delivered to their school; or through a Muse Machine artist residency, in which Muse artists partner with classroom teachers to develop student performances that demonstrate learning; students are having fun at Muse Machine schools. And I'm very proud to be a part of that. With all the seriousness surrounding the public debates over education reform - and with the dire pictures painted by the media of struggling schools - I like to remind myself that every day, in ways both small and large, I am helping to bring sunshine into Ohio classrooms. Oh - AND having a measurable impact on learning in core curriculum areas! But that's just a wonderful by-product of student engagement - of FUN in schools. And that's what the arts can deliver."  -- Luke Dennis, Executive Director of Muse Machine, and a board leader for the Ohio Alliance for Arts Education

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