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The Great Disconnect Revisited

Years ago I wrote an article (I can’t even remember for what publication) called The Great Disconnect. It focused on the tragic separation and total lack of communication between the professional presenting world and the K-12 arts education world.  At that time I attempted to make the case that unless these 2 sectors immediately found ways to collaborate to the benefit of all, each would separately suffer.  Sadly not only was I right, but the prediction is playing out.

I teach a class called Seminar, the capstone class in the master’s degree program here at Drexel.  This past week the students read the Rand publication that was commissioned by the Wallace Foundation, Cultivating Demand for the Arts, Arts Learning, Arts Engagement, and State Arts Policy, by Laura Zakaras and Julia F. Lowell.  Hearing my students discuss this superb monograph gave me the chills, as they could not find any valid reason why the 2 sectors, that of presenting and K-12 arts education, would not collaborate.  I also asked them to review the NEA’s Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, as further evidence. 

One factoid remains constant:  early participation in the arts leads to adult involvement.  It’s that simple.  The research on the topic is solid.  And no, K-12 arts education doesn’t exist solely to create audiences for established Western European-based arts organizations.  Its breadth ranges from development of the artistic voice to appreciation for a wide variety of expressions.  Adult involvement includes an enormous array of activities, as well as those of attending ticketed or admission-based events and institutions. 

Now we hear from all corners that we have too much supply,that demand will never be able to catch up.  Reading the Rand monograph, one has to conclude that no serious attempt was ever made at enriching and developing supply.  Help me if you can identify any comprehensive effort by the leading arts institutions in this country to systematically support K-12 arts education. 

Is it too late — is there any hope?  I have always called myself and optimist, but on this topic I fear that the show is over, that the only hope is a complete restructuring of both sectors, with an emphasis on its being one sector. 


  1. John Abodeely says:

    Have you read Revitalizing Arts Education… also by RAND? There is great effort by private sector not-for-profits–some arts, some arts ed–to provide a good education to students, including and through the arts.
    While it may not meet standards of success nationally, some efforts are systematic and innovative.
    IMHO, the sky isn’t falling. I’m not convinced that the arts in public education are as beleaguered as we might think. I’d be up for that debate.

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