Over many decades, research studies have shown the value and effectiveness of art education in the lives of schoolchildren, as well as its correlation to their achievement. And yet, increasingly during this same period, education decision makers once had all but removed art education from the curriculum of most elementary schools.
This is what we know about why art education matters: First, being a hands-on activity, the arts increase student engagement, focus on positive achievements and keep kids in school.
Second, the arts (including painting and sculpture, singing in a chorus, dancing and acting) require positive behaviors and attitudes, such as patience, persistence and collaboration, thereby building character.
Third, the arts enhance creativity and critical thinking skills, which are requirements of the 21st-century workforce. The arts provide a fun way to learn math principles, such as creating a work of art using measuring tools.
Fourth, the arts can provide us with a sense of joy and life lessons such as teamwork and developing a passion for learning.
And, finally, a multitude of studies have shown that the arts in the curriculum almost always improve test scores and add in a variety of ways to student success.
Knowing this, schools are changing and once more seeing the importance of the arts and including them in their curricula.
As a funder of arts organizations and art-in-education projects, I have seen firsthand what this lack of art education has created for our arts organizations: dwindling and older audiences and much less financial support.
Since there was almost no art instruction in their schools, most younger people have not been taught the importance of the arts in their lives. This is one reason why so many of our arts organizations are struggling with smaller budgets, small staffs and dwindling numbers of people willing to financially support them.
At the same time, many of these same arts organizations are serving youth in a variety of ways. For instance, The Fresno Art Museum is just one organization which is serving our children, as well as families. Four times a year, the museum is open for Family Day events, which include art demonstrations and making art in the classrooms, performing arts in the auditorium, and the SAM Academy (science, art and music).
The next free Family Day is coming up Dec. 14 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and it will include an art treasure hunt with prizes, carolers, drumming, theater and face-painting among the activities.
In April, the museum initiated its first Mini Maker Faire, where nearly 2,000 people participated in creating objects and observing them being made. Probably the most important of its many collaborations involving art education is the current one with the Fresno County Office of Education’s Any Given Child initiative (brought to Fresno by the Kennedy Center), when every third-grader in Fresno Unified School District (and some in Central Unified) will visit the museum to learn about art and how to view it. They also will be given the opportunity to make art.
Another very important cultural arts institution, the Fresno Philharmonic, is providing a music education program called Link Up, in a partnership with Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute. Students in third through fifth grades in both Fresno and Central Unified school districts will have the opportunity to come to the Saroyan Theater and perform on their recorders with the orchestra. This will be an interactive concert experience intended to break down the barrier between audience and performer. They will also be provided a music curriculum.
There are many other fine-arts organizations that are youth-oriented that deserve the support of this community, both monetarily and through attendance.
Here are some supported by the Bonner Family Foundation: Youth Orchestras of Fresno, Children’s Musical Theaterworks, Bach Children’s Choir, Sierra Chamber Opera and Valley Performing Arts Council.
Our children, our financially strapped arts organizations that serve them, the vitality and health of this community require the support of those of us who live and work here. And, I hope that you will conclude, as I have, that the arts in the schools aren’t a luxury, they are a necessity!