When I was interviewing for my position at The Center for Arts Education, I called a senior NYC education official to seek advice. My friend at the NYCDOE was very enthusiastic about the prospect of my being hired, until eerily, the issue of arts education advocacy came up.
I asserted that a major area of opportunity was in the arena of advocacy, since there was still so much need unmet. I got a rather quick and forceful counter assertion: “oh no, advocacy is not the way to go, after all, we (the NYCDOE) cannot have CAE telling us what to to.” To no avail, I pleaded that advocacy had a great deal of variety and flexibility to it, and having an outside ally as an advocate for arts education and the children of New York city public schools could be advantageous all around.
I think it would be fair to say that that particular moment was purely prescient.
Recently, a school principal who had read CAE’s report on arts education spending asked me what we exactly I thought could be accomplished with the report. He added: you realize that you’re going to make “the man” angry. For all those wondering what he meant by “the man,” I would refer you to Cool Hand Luke, or a click through to Wikipedia.
So, why issue these reports, when the guaranteed response from the powers that be is going to lie somewhere between silence and accusations of seeking to score “press points” through the use of distorted and faulty data?
If your organization is dedicated to ensuring a quality arts education for each and every New York City public school student, and I am talking about every student, not more, the work cannot be done without creating a context around both need and positive solutions to the need. And, as an independent organization not answering to the schools chancellor or other city leaders, you really don’t have to, and what is more, should not color what you write based upon how it will make what my principal colleague refers to as “the man,” feel. Instead, you have to do your best in helping the readers understand what the issues are and what can be done about them. It is neither a defense of nor an offense upon the powers that be, but rather an illumination of fidelity to mission.
So, here”s a link to Teaching the Arts on The Cheap, by Cora Lewis. It was stimulated by a CAE report that falls into the category of arts education advocacy research. And yes, according to what I’ve read in the media, it has been received by the powers that be somewhere on the continuum between silence and discredit.