Arts Education Needs Your Love…and a Little Celebration

Ken Busby

Ken Busby

Last week we celebrated Mardi Gras and Valentine’s Day. Two weeks ago, the Arts Education Council of Americans for the Arts met in Mesa, AZ to determine how we can best serve local arts agencies that are providing arts education programs.

How are these seemingly disparate events related you might ask? Let me tell you!

Arts education needs all the love you can give! And you can’t just let the good times roll without there being a few consequences. If we don’t work together to keep the importance of arts education at the forefront of people’s minds, they will fall by the wayside.

There was much discussion at our meeting in Mesa about arts integration, how to help local communities be stronger advocates for the arts, ways to highlight effective programs as models for other communities, and trends in the field and where we need to be heading if we are to keep the arts at the core of learning.

One thing that is clear in 2013—for arts education to be a real focus for educators and politicians at all levels, we as local arts agencies, we as arts teachers, and we as arts advocates are going to have to continue to work collaboratively and stay ahead of the curve in terms of research and best practices, and continue to demonstrate the value of the arts in developing a 21st century workforce.

The key to having arts education funded within the overall education field depends almost entirely on demonstrating that the arts, while wonderful in and of themselves, are essential to developing critical thinking skills, analytical skills, and communication skills that companies tell us are often sorely lacking from many of the high school and college graduates that they see applying for jobs.

There is a big push right now for programs focused on STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math. President Obama mentioned it during his State of the Union address. For those of us in the arts education field, we know that for STEM to be truly successful, we have to place the arts on an equal footing in the equation, creating STEAM!

We have the data that demonstrates that students who receive a regular infusion of arts during their school day do better in science and math, stay in school longer—going on to college or technical schools, and have a much stronger set of communication and critical thinking skills, making them much more employable.

While employment may not be the top priority for arts educators, it gives us the leverage that we need to make our case when our state and local education budgets face funding cuts.

Perhaps the thing we need to remember is that we have to stay positive! We can’t sit around wringing our hands and lamenting that arts education doesn’t receive the funding that it deserves. We have to continue to educate lawmakers and parents that the arts matter, and that the “cost” of funding education is far less than the cost to society of NOT funding education.

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