December 1, 2008 Archives
What a rich exchange of ideas we've had this first day. I'm going to pick up on one strand of the conversation that surfaced early. Several of you have expressed discomfort talking about "demand," which we normally associate with commodities and marketing, in the context of the arts. Let me clarify what we mean by the term in our report and why we find it useful.
The demand side of the cultural system consists of individuals who seek encounters with works of art. They do so because they have an interest in the arts and the capacity to find value in the arts experience. How do people develop such interest and capacity? It can happen in a multitude of ways, but the most effective way is to reach young people with strong arts education in the schools that teaches both performance and appreciation skills.
The purpose of such education is not to sustain a market for the arts but to draw more Americans into long-term involvement in the arts that enriches their lives and contributes to the public sphere. But it is important that we recognize that arts learning also fuels the entire cultural system. This role of arts education has not been sufficiently understood, even by arts educators, as a number of you have pointed out. If we are to work together to change the status quo, we need to understand why investments in arts education are necessary to sustain a vibrant culture.
It will take a powerful coalition of cultural leaders--including directors of arts organizations and the business leaders that sit on their Boards, the arts policy community, artists, and the professional organizations that represent thousands of arts educators--to change state education policy. Only by working together can they persuade the general education community (and the American public) that the arts should be part of the basic curriculum of the public schools.
Good point, Jane. We can go on and on claiming in loud and eloquent voices how wonderful the arts are, and how arts ed. is the answer to our culture's arts problems. But when our programs are narrowly conceived, serving few students, ignoring many if not most of their interests and ways of accessing the arts, disparaging their arts enthusiasms, and taught by teachers who, while devoted and well meaning, have been inadequately prepared to deal with the real world of the arts as our kids are confronting it, including technologically, our claims come across as self serving. Good teachers of comprehensive, genuine programs remain the core of our strength and contribution, as you suggest.
I have decided to move a comment I just left in another corner of the "room" into the spotlight. I am troubled by what sound like dismissive remarks about schools and school people and their willingness or ability to contribute to the entire enterprise we are discussing.
I am pasting in my response below:
Response to Bob Morrison's comment: "The formula is simple: Data informs advocacy, advocacy informs public policy, public policy creates change. The execution of the formula is a key to increased access to and participation in the arts in our schools. "
While I agree that access and equity are powerful ideas, I find your statement ingenuous; it is teacher and principal and educator proof and thus bound to failure. Most of the above addresses forces outside and beyond schools. And what makes you all think that public policy about or for the arts has made an iota of difference over the last 50 years? The challenge, I believe is to accept, respect and engage the school community in this kind of discussion and thinking; data analysis and policy wonking will not create lasting change that the people in the schools will recognize, acknowledge or implement. That is the very reason that every old and recent attempt at school reform has failed. It ignores the very actors on whom sucess depends.
Let's also look at how we deliver arts education in today's classrooms. When I was a student back in the Sixties, we worked in traditional media of that era - pencil, woodcuts, watercolor, and clay. We didn't have digital tools that today's generation grew up with. While the fundamentals of art and design can still be learned through traditional media, there is an array of possibilities with new tools such as computer graphics, the web, and handheld devices just to name a few. Understandably, there is resistance from teachers of the previous generation when they have not had the same exposure as their students, but what a shame that these teachers are not empowered with these new tools. Perhaps it begins with providing appropriate training for our teachers.
Moy, you point out the difficulty of getting education reform that benefits arts education in any meaningful way moving. A year ago, I was with Americans for the Arts National Arts Policy Roundtable, several days of inquiry about arts education with NOT the usual suspects at the table. The business leaders asserted that American education changes dramatically only when the business community feels fear --Sputnik, A Nation At Risk, etc. Coolidge was right: the business of America is business. [I agree, Jane, that we have the arts and arts education our culture wants.] I think American business is beginning to get genuinely scared that innovative capacity is heading overseas to India and China and other countries. Many biz leaders believe this is their competitive edge, at a time when they have fewer worldwide competitive edges than they have had before. Can we start to make that case, and align the players you cite, Moy, asserting that academics-hammering exacerbates the problem?
The bizfolk I have heard don't believe arts education delivers the goods they want, and they are right. We don't know how to develop creative capacity well. We are scared of assessing that capacity partly because it is hard to do, but mostly because we don't really know what we are doing. We have had several observations in this discussion about the data on arts education being inadequate. I heard one businessman say, "If you could convince me that arts education effectively and reliably develops innovative capacity, give me hard data to confirm it, I would become your biggest supporter overnight."
Okay, it's an old saw, but, you will be hard pressed to find a private school that doesn't provide an arts education to its students, both in what it offers and participation rates. Suburban schools do a much better job than urban schools, and as we know well, in urban districts, those schools with greater access to external resources, often resources raised by parents, do a better job than those without.
In 2001, ruling in favor of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, which backed a lawsuit seeking to change the state formula for funding public schools, New York State Supreme Court Justice Leland DeGrasse stated that "demography is not destiny." When it comes to arts education, demography may be just that.
That's the real debate.
Indeed, the current public arts infrastructure, despite endless rhetoric about "diversity," remains overwhelmingly devoted to those dead European males that John Rockwell mentions. Last year, the NEA's expenditures in support of traditional, ethnic culture totaled 7/10th of 1% of the agency's budget. Take a look at the course catalog of any music conservatory -- even at those places with the most esteemed ethnomusicology programs, the European canon (which accounts for about 5% of the world's musical output) outnumbers the rest of the world by several orders of magnitude. This is akin to offering a science curriculum that ends with Copernicus.
Changing this cultural myopia, in education and in the public arts arena, would require a commitment that we have never seen from educators, governments or from philanthropists. But the alternative is more of the long cultural gray-out that Alan Lomax predicted back in 1977 and which provides a stark context for our discussion today.
The basic question: "How can demand for the arts be increased?" My goodness, what a complex topic...
For starters, I would like to lay out some questions that I have concerning the subject. Most certainly, there won't be a definitive solution or a conclusion by the end of the week; however, I propose these questions to help focus my own mind and as beginning elements from which I correspond and respond to the blog.
Most importantly, how should we define "demand"? What is the method of assessment and evaluation for this "demand"? In music, is this about concert attendance? In the visual arts, is this about the number of visitors to special exhibits?
Are we somehow under the impression that the appreciation for the arts was greater in the past? On what basis do we make this assumption? If we are looking at the number of sold seats at a concert, for example, is this really an indication of the societal interest in music? Or does this tell us more about the societal changes that we face or the face of society-at-large? In other words, is the change between past and present about art or about everything else?
In the past, the arts were supported in different ways. Mozart's patrons (the "policy makers" of his day) weren't always thinking about increasing "demand" and the triangular "appreciation/availability/accessibility" status of music. But in the long run, how did their "policies" affect us? What great things they did for the world of music! The benefits their largesse brought forth were much farther reaching than their mortal selves.
What are the differences between "demand," "appreciation," and "engagement" for the arts? In engagement, I see a healthy and productive room for discussion, agreement, experimentation, and argument. These are all necessary for a true appreciation and for continuously-increasing understanding. For me, demand signifies a simpler, and therefore less effective and impacting, consumer mentality. Prioritizing simply in terms of increasing "demand," has much more to do with marketing and crowd pleasing. This is neither a very artistic nor intellectual pursuit.
Finally, I note in the opening blog by Laura Zackaras that "We argue that arts education needs to be understood in terms of its contribution to the cultural life of our country." I'd like to add that "education" alone - and, much less so that which exists within the compulsory educational system - cannot make a dent in that cause. Rather, all educational efforts must be appreciated and supported in various, comprehensive, and complementing ways. Is the purpose of arts education in the public school systems, for example, solely about increasing demand and appreciation for the arts? Art for art's sake??? Or could it also have the potential to increase understanding and motivation for a changing/changeable world? In that case, arts education could be comprehended in terms of the wealth and the health of our country-at-large, reaching well beyond our cultural life.
WHAT: Arts programs in the schools are neglected, especially when societal concerns are focused on the "basics," as occurs regularly and expextedly (and ferociously as in No Child Left Behind). We professional arts educators want more time, money, importance, respect, as part of basic education.
WHERE: Is our problem inside arts education or outside? Outside, the arts are flourishing, at least reasonably if not remarkably. Certainly we don't lack art-making talent. We have so much of it, at such high levels, that it is societally unlikely, perhaps impossible, to support all who aspire to be professional artists.
Inside, music education, and, I am sure, the other arts ed. fields, exist largely on art-making (performance in the case of music ed.). Some 9 to 15 % of kids in schools elect participation. Is that likely to be considered "basic" education? Hardly. Until our offerings engage all students in more broadly-based arts instruction in the general ed. aspect of schooling, K-12, and offer electives attractive to more than a small minority, we will continue to exert minimal influence on our culture's art life. The major problem we face is found by looking inward to our own deficencies.
I was struck by Ed Pauly's keen observation about the arts "as another special interest group." It has been abundantly clear to me that if we continue to do (even twice as hard) what we've done before, we'll keep getting the same results. Translation: Deaf ears and impatience with more arts advocacy, more rationales for the arts, more attempts to portray the arts as miracle workers that claim, as former AERA president Eva Baker has said (I paraphrase): ...can do everything except wash my windows and clean my floors. As I have often said, the Arts Emperor has no clothes when desperate and far-fetched arguments are advanced to include them as instrumental to school reform, higher test scores, and global competition.
I think Ed put his finger on a very important and sensitive issue: Why, after all these years of advocacy, campaigning, claiming, and research are we still stuck in the rut of complaining about our relatively low status in the schools?
Why have there been no serious and sustained efforts to create a constitutency in the public schools who would champion the arts as part of basic education for every child?
Why have we settled for "pockets of excellence" as demonstrations of the learning power of the arts when what we have always needed to aim for was a critical mass of teachers, principals, parents, schools, administrators and students who, through their own school or community-based experience understood the value of the arts to cognitive, social, emotional and physical human growth and development in that artificial environment called "school?"
Let's take another look at Doug McLennan's phrasing of the question:
New research by RAND and sponsored by The Wallace Foundation suggests that a generation of Americans has not developed the knowledge or skills to engage with our cultural heritage. Without that engagement, the arts as we know them are unsustainable over the long run. Can anything be done?
First: It's not just "a generation" that has been skipped; the arts have almost never been part of the preparation of most teachers and their principals. Second: Do we really have a "cultural heritage" that is arts friendly? Isn't that part of what we've been trying to develop over all these years? Third: The arts as we know them are unsustainable over the long run: Perhaps they are, perhaps they should be, perhaps not, but it sounds like we're prematurely lamenting the death of a civilization.
It's probably time that we faced the fact that Americans have not, as a whole, been "high arts" friendly for a lot of social, economic and historical reasons. Our fortunes generally rise in good economic times and falter or even fall out when money is scarce.
Perhaps it is time to accept the arts' position on the margins and to gather together with all our colleagues in the schools to talk about ways to systematically and intelligently incorporate them in the daily teaching and learning of our public schools. As I believe that change takes place one person, class, school, district at a time, we need to develop strategies for conversations with the only people, in the final analysis, whose championship and support will make a difference in the long run.
A number of well-articulated reasons to make arts part of every child's education from the competitive edge for America's 21st century global workforce to preservation and advocacy of selected art forms to a deeper value and commitment to make cultural literacy part of a child's education. Although meaningful, none have been powerful enough to catalyze influential leaders to create policy incentives, systemize the key solid education practices and incentives for educators to make arts part of the school week and commit to sustained and adequate funding to do so.
California has a number of foundational elements for this to happen: policy, legislative leadership, acclaimed model programs in Los Angeles, Alameda and Santa Clara, among others, and the recent landmark allocation in 2006 and subsequent funding at approximately $17 per capita. Yet the challenge to get the state's 6 million plus schoolchildren reading and writing in a state is profound with a more than 30% dropout rate, disinvested public school system (once among the top in the US) and one of the shortest school days in the country, much less to reinstitute the arts! And, that is even with some excellent policy and practices already in place.
As Richard Kessler infers, given the achievement gap, it is unlikely for schoolchildren in underresourced schools to experience arts learning in this setting.
To make arts part of a child's school week in the country will require a coordinated broad scale effort with educators, artists and business leaders. This would encompass 1) creating or strengthen policy incentives to include arts (for instance 2 hours per week throughout the school year), 2) making the instructional time in the school day/week; 3) providing sustained funds, optimally from the general fund monies; 4) having excellent professional development (pre and in service), curriculum (web-based) and formative and summative assessment for students and teachers and 5) building a multi-constituency advocacy effort with powerful messaging.
The interesting thing about the debate on arts education is its conspicuous absence from the decade-long debate on American education.
The education debate has been about enabling every child to learn; about reading and math test scores; about qualified teachers; about charter schools; about after-school programs - all very important things.
Yet the education debate has been silent on the topic of arts education.
Why? There are many reasons.
A generation of educators missed out on their own arts learning experiences when budget cuts in the 1970s and 1980s stretched into an arts education drought.
Thoughtful efforts to place a high priority on reading and math morphed into the mistaken view that other priorities are dispensable.
And the arts have been tagged as another special interest group instead of a part of everyday life.
But when we all step back from the education debate and its budget battles, there is actually widespread agreement on two big reasons arts education should be part of our education debate:
Arts learning - both in and out of school - opens the door to a lifetime of experiences that most young people will miss if they don't step through that door during their school years.
And their passage through that doorway opens up learning experiences that are deeply valued by nearly everyone - including learning about captivating and engaging creative experiences (from Scott Joplin's The Entertainer to Alvin Ailey's Revelations);
sharing meaning with and from the many communities to which Americans belong (from
the jazz greats to Maya Lin's Vietnam Memorial); and empathy with people we have not met (as in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman).
Ample reasons for putting arts education back into our national debate about education.
Yes, Richard. I keep scrabbling around at the granular level of arts experiences for the huiman essentials we purport they provide. I find things like developing a healthy curiosity about differentness (a cultural necessity with our changing demographics), a capacity to make strong connections between literal and abstract realities (in a culture that is belligerently literal and commercial), the ability to reflect and play well, etc.. At the first UNESCO worldwide arts education conference (Lisbon 2006), the clear message of need and demand from around the world was "creativity"--with heads of state asking that of arts educators and saying their nation's future depended on it and us.
In his keynote at the National Performing Arts Conference this summer, bestselling business guru Jim Collins remarked that to succeed in turbulent times, an organization (business or arts nonprofit) must deepen its commitment to core values/beliefs and experiment boldly in ways to fulfill them. He then said that people in the arts think the traditional arts canon of artworks is our core value/belief, and we are wrong. Our core is the perhaps inarticulable but strong and abiding reasosn humans have engaged in "art" since day 2 of human history; the attachment to the canon of artworks is a traditional means of achieving such goals, and is exactly what we must experiment boldly away from to rediscover relevant and valuable reasons for art to be in our culture.