A Case for Arts Education

By Laura Zakaras

It is a pleasure to be kicking off a public conversation about arts education with such a distinguished group and others who care. In this first post, I'd like to make the key point of our recent report, Cultivating Demand for the Arts: Arts Learning, Arts Engagement, and State Arts Policy, and invite responses to some of the questions it raises [research abstract here].

We argue that arts education needs to be understood in terms of its contribution to the cultural life of our country. Art production by itself does not make a vigorous culture. That comes about from the interaction between works of art and those who respond to them. Such interactions don't come about as a matter of course: people need to be enabled to enter into arts experiences that give them pleasure and meaning.

Arts education fills this critical role. It is the most effective way to develop an individual's capacity to see, hear, and find meaning in works of art. And it's the best means we have to democratize the arts by helping all our young people discover what the arts have to offer.

We tend to underestimate the role of arts education in cultivating future demand for the arts. Yet surveys and empirical analysis show that arts education is far and away the strongest influence on adult participation in the arts.

If, as we argue, arts learning is critical to the healthy functioning of the entire cultural system, then arts policies that focus on supporting the supply of artworks and improving access to those works won't, by themselves, do the job. We need policies that focus on developing individual capacity to have engaging experiences with works of art.
With the neglect of arts education in our schools, it is not surprising that fewer young people than ever are visiting art museums, attending theater productions, or seeking classical or jazz concerts. What do these trends portend for the future?
These conditions raise a host of other questions that will have to be addressed if we are to change the status quo:

  • What should we expect of public education?
  • Can community-based arts education programs fill the gaps left by the public schools?
  • Is it reasonable to expect arts specialists and parents to bear the responsibility of making the case for arts instruction in local schools year after year?
  • What will it take to change state education policy so that all public schools offer instruction in music, visual arts, drama, and dance?
  • Should arts policymakers, artists, and other leaders in the artworld forge common cause with arts educators to advocate for change in state education policies?
  • Is improving arts education in the schools the best way to address cultural inequity?
  • If arts education were more widespread, could it offset the pervasive influence of popular culture?
  • Why not let demand for the nonprofit arts shrink in response to lower demand? Aren't the arts like any other market where consumers decide what they want?

Let the conversation begin!

November 30, 2008 7:42 AM | | Comments (1) |


Who says demand for the arts has declined over decades [as the abstract of your report says in its opening]? Really? By almost every measure, demand for the arts is dramatically higher than it was. More arts groups. More artists. More performances. More accessibility. More, more more.

Maybe at the moment there is more supply than demand (debatable, I'd say, given that we haven't had any significant die-offs among arts institutions)but surely if you're going to claim demand hasn't kept up you need to back up the claim.

Leave a comment


This Conversation For decades, as teaching of the arts has been cut back in our public schools, alarms have been raised about the dire consequences for American culture. Artists and arts organizations stepped in to try to... more

Our Bloggers

Sam Hope, executive director, The National Office for Arts Accreditation (NOAA);
Jack Lew, Global University Relations Manager for Art Talent at EA;
Laura Zakaras, RAND;
James Cuno, Director, Art Institute of Chicago;
Richard Kessler, Executive Director, Center for Arts Education;
Eric Booth, Actor;
Midori, Violinist;
Bau Graves, Executive director, Old Town School of Folk Music;
Kiff Gallagher 
Bennett Reimer, Founder of the Center for the Study of Education and the Musical Experience, author of A Philosophy of Music Education;
Edward Pauly, the director of research and evaluation at the Wallace Foundation;
Moy Eng, Program Director of the Performing Arts Program at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation;
John Rockwell, critic;
Susan Sclafani, Managing Director, Chartwell Education Group;
Jane Remer, Author, Educator, Researcher
Michael Hinojosa, General Superintendent, Dallas Independent School District 
Peter Sellars, director


Contact us Click here to send us an email... more

Peter Sellars on Creativity & the Voice more

Archives: 24 entries and counting


Blog Sponsor


Recent Comments

Carol M commented on A Case for Arts Education: Who says demand for the arts has declined over decades [as the abstract of ...