If you’ve found this article, then you probably already value arts education and are hoping to find one convincing argument to receive or retain funding for arts programs in our schools.
But here’s the reality: There isn’t one argument that can address and combat all the reasons arts education struggles to find and keep its support.
Competing educational, political, and financial priorities within school communities, as well as social and cultural misperceptions about the value of the arts, are significant hurdles in gaining wide-ranging support for the arts. The good news is that substantial progress has been made in developing evidence that the arts have added value and benefit to high-quality education. In addition, the drive to engage a wider range of arts advocates gives the arts community a stronger voice in the public conversation.
You can become part of the advocacy movement simply by conversing with people in your communities about the value of the arts and arts education. One thing to think about is that most individuals need to see their own interests addressed in order to support a cause. In considering how to talk with others about the arts and arts education, you must take the focus off your own beliefs. Instead, find out and focus on what’s most important to others.
Asking the following questions will help your audience make direct connections between the arts and their personal lives:
- Did you study an art form when you were a child?
- Was it in school?
- What was your most meaningful childhood experience with the arts?
- Which disciplines (e.g. music, dance, theater, visual arts) speak to you the most?
- Do you attend arts events now? Why? Why not?
- What hesitations or concerns do you have about funding arts education?
Most people are supportive of the arts in our culture and in our schools, but when budgets are tight or the economy stumbles, the arts become a lower priority. Lack of support may reflect a belief that we can live without arts, whereas we cannot live without math or English skills.
If you encounter this resistance, consider questions like these:
- What purpose do the arts serve?
- What would a community be like without art?
- What about the practical value of applied arts such as entertainment, design, or fashion?
- How much does art and applied arts contribute to our quality of life?
Perhaps you need to focus on the inherent value of the arts. Some say that the arts express ideas and ask profound questions. Others appreciate that the arts provide beauty and joy, or that the arts project our regional and national identities while serving as eloquent records of our society. By studying the arts, and by then thinking outside the box, we learn to deconstruct complex concepts and find new ways of telling a story or presenting information in an engaging manner. You also can argue that supporting the arts allows these activities to continue, but that doing nothing imperils these values.
If you hear a more practical value for the arts, you may want to mention that research indicates that arts education fosters one of the abilities most needed to succeed in the 21st century workforce: creativity. The workforce of the future will require problem solvers who can reflect on their processes and evaluate their products, and individuals who can lead or be a team player.
In order to broaden support, arts education advocates must reflect diverse and varied public concerns in conversations about our cause. Creating shared values and mutual understanding while correcting misconceptions can help our community find greater acceptance and success in funding.