Recently by Laura Zakaras

I am so glad this tapestry of ideas will be archived on this site. There is much to ponder here. Many good questions that were posed but not taken up. Many other questions that were examined from several angles. Many good insights about the environment we're trying to affect. And many thoughts about what might be done and what it would take to do it. I'm sure I speak for all of us, including those who have become our readers, when I say thanks to the good people at The Wallace Foundation for commissioning the RAND study, coming up with the idea of an online conversation, and supporting it; to Doug McLennan for organizing and promoting it; to all our participants for making it so substantive and provocative; and to Moy Eng and the Hewlett Foundation for offering to carry on this work in another form. I also want to acknowledge the people who have come to this site to participate as audiences, some of whom posted comments. Doug tells us that by this morning more than 10,000 people had become engaged in this conversation in one way or another--a sign of powerful interest in this issue. It is easy for us to forget how many of us are out there. There are tens of thousands of arts educators, artists, arts professionals, and researchers, many more thousands of Americans who would like to see more arts education in the schools, and innumerable efforts across this country--large and small, top-down and bottom-up, in schools and in communities--that are bringing more visibility, more resources, and more talent to arts instruction. But there is little connective tissue among the players. This blog is one of those efforts. It is a small one, but because it took place on the Internet, it was able to reach thousands within a matter of days. If our conversation leads to a broader initiative that gains clarity around goals and strategies and develops strong leadership, I hope it will find a way to engage the kinds of people who chose to listen to us this week. Perhaps we can learn some lessons from the historic political campaign we have just witnessed. Is it too audacious to envision using the technologies now at our disposal to inform and engage large numbers of Americans in a movement to make the arts a part of every child's life?
December 5, 2008 10:39 PM | | Comments (2) |

I've had a side conversation with Nick Rabkin, author of Putting the Arts in the Picture: Reframing Education in the 21st Century. He takes me to task for drawing too bright a line between instrumental and intrinsic benefits of the arts, and I think he's right. He mentions James Catterall's evaluation of the schools working with the Chicago Arts Partnerships that found that test scores were rising faster in those schools than they were in comparable schools without the program--results that got serious attention from the Chicago Board of Education. But the reason students do better is intimately connected to arts' intrinsic effects.

Here's what Nick writes:

. . . Over the last few years I have concluded that what James reported and what I have seen in those classrooms is not instrumental at all. We mistake it as instrumental because we define "art", as Eric says, by its nouns, the products that artists make. But if art is understood as multiple ways of engaging the world, making sense and meaning from it, and expressing that meaning through a medium, we would understand that the cognitive gains the test may (or may not) reflect and the language mastery that comes with the photography lessons are part of an integrated package. Intrinsic and instrumental are, like the subjects in the curriculum, ways of categorizing the world that can be helpful. But they can also blind us to the complexity of the world, and I'm afraid they do in this case.
We could easily say that the "intrinsic" benefits you ascribe to art your post - "pleasure, arts experiences develop in us the capacity to move imaginatively and emotionally into different worlds (as James Cuno has so aptly described), to broaden our field of reference beyond the confines of our immediate experience; to exercise our capacity for empathy; to develop our faculties of perception, interpretation, and judgment; and to form common bonds of humanity through some works of art that manage to convey what whole communities have experienced" - are instrumental. I want to experience some pleasure, so I watch a movie. That is instrumental.
I think the confusion grows fundamentally from the frame that defines art: it is broadly understood as affective, sensual, and expressive, and not cognitive. But the most current cognitive science seems to be showing that this is a continuation of what Antonio Dimasio, the noted neuroscientist has called "Descartes Error."
I say, let's take a page from the playbook of our new president-elect. Let's call a time out in this intrinsic-instrumental debate. It is not either or. It is both and.
December 4, 2008 12:08 PM | | Comments (2) |
I can't help feeling that what we're creating here resembles a complex piece of jazz, unfolding over days, with each of us improvising on a set of common chords, bringing in our own disciplinary perspectives and personal experiences, echoing when we can the notes others have played. For me, it's a great experience, both as a player and a listener. Stepping back for a moment, I'm going to try to identify the chords we're picking up on, the topics that recur--not all of them by any means, but the dominant ones. I'll also mention a few of the riffs to give a sense of their color and range.

What's the problem? This is one of our most recurrent motifs. We all seem to agree that too few children and young adults are getting any meaningful education in the arts. But there are other problems to address. Bennett adds that what they are getting is too narrowly focused on performance. Eric says that we do not prioritize the individual's artistic experience; I emphasize that we are not developing the individual's aesthetic capacity; Bau and John point out that arts education ignores ethnic culture. Richard describes "the arts education gap"--children in higher-income schools get more arts education than those in low-performing urban schools.

What's at stake? This is a largely submerged chord that I think needs more attention. Jane touches on the importance of the arts in the cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development of the individual; Richard also comes back to the fundamental well-being of our children. Eric emphasizes that the arts release the creative potential of the individual. Kiff mentions that she rarely has time to talk about the value of the arts--it's all about the arts as a strategy to promote other goals that government supports, such as student achievement and socialization. But notice that's not what we're worried about losing. We keep coming back to intrinsic benefits.

In our recent report and a previous report, Gifts of the Muse, we argue that the main benefit of the arts is the cultivation of our humanity. Besides providing sheer pleasure, arts experiences develop in us the capacity to move imaginatively and emotionally into different worlds (as James Cuno has so aptly described), to broaden our field of reference beyond the confines of our immediate experience; to exercise our capacity for empathy; to develop our faculties of perception, interpretation, and judgment; and to form common bonds of humanity through some works of art that manage to convey what whole communities have experienced. The reason we bemoan the decline in arts participation among the young is that it narrows opportunities for individual and civic development and spells the deepening of cultural inequities.

What's the goal? Several of us have argued that we should make the arts a part of the basic education of every child. Jane emphasizes that our objectives should be access, equity, and quality in arts education. Midori reminds us that the music education requires a myriad of programs both inside and outside the schools and its objectives are reconsidered and redefined by every generation. John, Eric, and Bau want to see the field move beyond the canon and embrace many diverse art forms and cultures. Bennett and Sam point to models of strong education programs--good teachers of genuine comprehensive programs who are the core of our strength--and argue that these are the foundation we should build on.

What are the barriers to achieving that goal? Another strong chord. Moy describes California's disinvested public school systems, high dropout rates, and short school day; Jane refers to some good books that describe why it is so hard to change anything in our schools; Ed points out that advocates for the arts have been tagged as a special interest group; Sam elaborates on how difficult it is to make progress in a policy environment that is dominated by advocacy that has no specificity or substantive focus (several picked up on the eyes-glaze-over riff); Jane says that arts educators will not gain respect and acceptance until the field figures out how to assess arts learning. And many point to fissures in the field over the purpose and methods of arts education that make consensus elusive.

What's to be done? Nearly everyone has picked up on this motif in one way or another. Eric worries that the arts community will never be able to gather any force through coordinated action. Others strike more hopeful notes, and they are all about developing collaboration. Ed and Michael emphasize that you build movements locally, pointing to the success of vast collaborative networks formed in Dallas, L.A., and Alameda County. Bob Morrison describes what collaborations at the state level have done and are doing now to improve arts education. And despite the problems facing California, Moy spells out the kind of broad-based coordinated effort that could make the arts a part of every child's school day. Eric, in the same post where he despairs of change, tells us that the National Performing Arts Conference, the largest gathering of arts leaders ever, identified arts education as one of its three highest priorities. Could this be the beginning of the kind of collaboration between the arts community and the arts education community that we envision in our report?
December 3, 2008 8:28 PM | | Comments (3) |

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.

December 1, 2008 8:47 PM | | Comments (0) |

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) |


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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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, Founder & CEO of the Music National Service Initiative and MusicianCorps
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;
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Jane Remer, Author, Educator, Researcher
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