The arts have always been in my life, and I consider myself extremely lucky to be able to say that. However, I didn’t have super artistic parents; in fact, art wasn’t really even a hobby for my parents. My dad is a pilot and was always more math and science-minded, and my mom had a varied career history, including accounting, marketing and flight attendant, but the arts were never involved in their professional lives, and besides my mom playing the piano now and then, not in their personal lives either. However, they always encouraged both my involvement in and appreciation of the arts. I started taking dance classes when I was three, and my parents started taking me to the theatre productions when I was around six years old. There were museums, piano lessons and choir concerts throughout my life. I also had the typical arts classes in school, stayed involved in choir, theatre and dance through my teenage years, went on to major in theatre in college and moved on to have a career in the non-profit arts world. Why? I was encouraged to participate in the arts, where I ended up finding my niche and passion, and I was given the support and tools I needed to do just that.
Created by state education leaders and governors from 48 states, the Common Core is the largest effort in the United States to develop a set of unified standards intended to equip students with the knowledge and skills required to succeed in college and careers. A popular refrain from Common Core advocates is “fewer, higher, deeper” — in essence the main shift from previous standards is to offer a reduced number of more rigorous standards. The Core has been met with mixed reactions from educators around the nation. Some are excited about the emphasis on deep critical thinking and others find the new mandates and benchmarks to be cumbersome and confusing. When it comes to the connection between Common Core and the arts, there is a lot to be explored.
I have been involved in theatre and the arts so long that one of my oldest memories is losing my first tooth at a summer theatre camp, so let’s say four or five. Throughout my 18 years, I have seen how important the arts are, I have seen how they benefit me, my age group, and all students involved in these programs within public education. I have seen how paramount it is that we advocate for arts funding and fight to raise the priority level of arts in the mind of the public and our governments: from local school boards cutting arts programs, to the federal government nixing grant programs for arts endowment.
Individuals who lobby and support the arts, see that the fight for the arts is for the benefit of the public. We see arts education as a key element to being better, being more active members in our communities, and well-rounded people. We see the overwhelming benefits art programs bring to students and schools. We know individuals can work together to ensure policies and programs such as the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District are guaranteed to children and families.
Through my active 13 years in the arts community, I can speak to these values, these lessons that the arts share with students. I am the thriving person I am today because of the arts. The arts have taught me about myself. They gave me a platform to be myself. Being gay, I know the arts community as a home, a place where I know it is okay to be me. I have thrived because I know that my community of artists shares the belief of acceptance.
It’s a tired story. Funding in education is cut, channeled to nationally backed reform efforts, or school enrollment shrinks along with budgets for teachers and programs. We all know the reasons why the arts are the first to take a hit: they can’t be measured on a test, they’re too subjective, they’re not impacting learning in the core classroom, and too many are not skills based. While some of that may be true some of it is also blatantly false. For example, a 2016 report issued by Americans for the Arts stated,
“Data from The College Board show that in 2015, students who took four years of arts and music classes while in high school scored an average of 92 points higher on their SATs than students who took only one-half year or less.” (1)
Additional research with school age child development shows “a group of 162 children, ages 9-10, were trained to look closely at works of art and reason about what they saw. The results showed that children’s ability to draw inferences about artwork transferred to their reasoning about images in science.”(2)
As artists, we are often put in a seemingly precarious position of needing to justify our life’s work, and its purpose. Artists often have to justify their profession in a way that neurosurgeons, for example, don’t. We never hear of neurosurgeons being asked to explain the massive expense of their equipment because it so clearly saves lives.
Of course, on the other hand, the national neurosurgery awards are not televised for the world to see, and, for better or worse, naval captains who perform acts of bravery do not capture the flashing gaze of the paparazzi.
But the point is that we, as artists, educators, aesthetes, and supporters feel forced to justify our artistic worldview and activity. And we often do so through the language of spending and revenue, through market capitalism and its brethren. There is nothing wrong with this, but it is not the most critical or powerful tool that we have.
There are obvious reasons. I love their enthusiasm as they do a really hard and really important job. I love that they’re invariably easy to talk to, and funny. But there’s a bigger reason that I love theatre teachers, and to explain it I’m going to talk about a play that I wrote a long time ago.
To teach is to create art; art is a combination of mind and body joining to create something bigger than ourselves and share with the world around us. It’s fitting to infuse art into the pursuit of educating. My experience as a student at Kunsmiller Creative Arts Academy, the expansion of my thinking, and my eagerness to learn is truly beautiful to witness, complex to analyze, interesting to discuss, revolutionary to the people I touch, and ever evolving, much like a piece of art.