Responding to Doug's Questions and Parting Reflections

By Jane Remer

In an email to the bloggers, Doug posed the following question:

1. What is realistic to expect from arts organizations in arts learning? That is to say, what is the potential for arts organizations recognizing their deep interest in arts learning? Or, as the post about the National Performing Arts Convention hints, have they already? One way of putting the question is whether there is a growing realization that the lack of arts education is having a detrimental effect? (Even if as Eric Booth puts it there's not yet collective action.)

 2.Linked to this point, as Laura notes, what is at stake - that is, do folks agree there is a link between arts learning and both our cultural life and the ability of folks to take part in it?

I have worked extensively in and with both arts organizations and schools over the years. There is, of course, no simple answer to the question because there are many kinds of arts organizations. Some are dedicated to working in schools, K-12 (e.g., Young Audiences, ArtsConnection, Studio in a School, Lincoln Center Institute, etc), others are focused on one or more art forms for whom public performance or exhibitions are a primary purpose; many of the latter have education and/or outreach departments. Oddly enough, education is often the lowest priority in arts organizations just as the arts are often the lowest priority in public schools.

With some major exceptions across the country, most arts organizations provide arts experiences; these experiences may or may not connect to their repertory or collections. They tend to rely on artists (some trained, some not) to conduct these experiences, in visits or "residencies"  both in schools and other venues. Very few of these organizations think about or provide the arts as learning (scope and sequence, developed over time, in courses of study, in which students learn arts knowledge, skills, understanding, history, aesthetics, criticism and the like.) Some of these organizations have extensive experience in arts partnerships often funded by state and local arts councils; these tend to focus more on arts learning, in projects that explore particular themes, ideas or art works.

Overall, I would venture that most of the arts work offered by arts organizations is not concerned with arts learning (as defined above.) While most arts organizations these days are probably hopeful that they are building future audiences, if they work extensively with poor or inner city populations they are keenly aware that it is unlikely a significant number of students will have easy access to the kind of money it takes to go regularly to arts events in their communities. However, whenever there are funding cuts for the arts in schools, the arts community (not the education community, alas) is usually quickest to raise a cry, help marshal resources to "restore" services, and advocate for more arts, more money and more opportunities for kids to experience the arts for a whole variety of reasons, some of which are arts learning.

I do not think boards and administrators in arts organizations think deeply about arts learning nor connect the lack thereof with a weakening of the culture which in turn would have a detrimental effect on their enterprise. Most are concerned primarily with the reputation of the organization, its financial health, and its box office appeal. And many think of their education or outreach programs as both a civic duty and a very good fundraising strategy.

Regarding the second question, I'm not sure many people stop to think about the connections or the impact of one set of circumstances on another. It would be interesting to know more about it.


It's been a chock-full five days, full of positions, perspectives, ideas, frustrations, agreements and arguments, and some beautiful poetry, passion and perseverence. It has given me a much deeper understanding of some of the differences in our "field" and some of the strands of near consensus. But the complexity, foci, and concerns expressed are so incredibly diverse, especially when it comes to constructs like  education, values, methods, strategies, not to mention purposes, goals, visions and missions, that I think our best chance is to just keep on talking to, past, around, at, with etc each other just so we can recognize, respect and honor the differences.

We each have such unique perspectives and points of view that it is probably amazing that we agreed (or at least didn't burst into rage when we didn't) as much as we did.

The future will reveal our degree of acceptance of the huge arts education pluralism that we have just uncovered as only the tiny tip of the iceberg. That, itself, is a revelation.

Thanks to everyone for the ride. I hope it continues. I suspect it will within the ever-changing "interest groups" that helped us form our conversations.

Happy Holidays and New Year! 

December 5, 2008 1:15 PM | | Comments (0) |

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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

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