GIA Conference D3: Final Thoughts (Arts Education IS Social Justice)

GIA Conference D3/Wrap Up

While this will be my final post as one of the three official conference bloggers, I have no doubt that so very much of what I encountered idea-wise will infiltrate not only my blogging on Dewey21C, but also my work for quite some time. That statement should tell you a lot about how I experienced the three days.

My posts have been quite linear So, in keeping with that practice, here’s a thought. It was interesting and affirming, that a fair number of presenters made a stump speech for the importance of arts education. It was a refrain for the session on aging, the demographics session with Pastor, and the absolutely, freaking-fantastic, wonderful closing session with Eugene Rodriquez, Linda, Ronstadt, David Hildago, and all of Los Cenzontles. They delivered the message of art education, its importance, the gross, immoral inequity, and its overall fragility. (More on that last session in a moment.)

I don’t know how to say this without it coming out like a lecture, but I think that a lot of funders are missing a key meaning of arts education, while at the very same time they embrace arts and social justice. It’s impossible not to notice the growing mass of funders connected to social justice, while the arts education cohort appears to be getting smaller. I am not going to argue against social justice, I mean really, but rather for seeing arts education as social justice. I mean, REALLY!!

I know that there are people who are frustrated about arts education. There are many, for good reason, who feel that it is a sinkhole and that it is impossible to make real, lasting change.

But, if you are one of the growing number of funders looking at arts and social justice, think about this:

  1. The most important issue in arts education is equity. Children of color in underserved urban school districts are being denied access to engagement in the arts, engagement that is about learning, democracy, art making and experience, creativity, youth development, community building, and more. It is ENGAGEMENT, folks. It is equity. It is inherently SOCIAL JUSTICE.
  2. Arts Education blends the interests of arts and education, combined with larger issues related to demographic changes and equity in ways that are fundamentally aligned, but somehow many miss this point.
  3. There are organizations doing ground level work in community organizing, public policy, community engagement, capitalization, technology, and more, putting their institutional necks on the line in the name of equity. They put those necks on the line through coalition building, public rallies, legislative advocacy, media advocacy, and speaking of truth to power.
  4. I sometimes wonder how many who are so enamored of arts and social justice, that don’t see the forest for the trees when it comes to arts education, have ever stood on the steps of City Hall, shoe-horned an elected official, issued a public statement that challenged the civic elite, or had the pleasure of being labeled as hostile by those in power? I would wonder how many have seen the communities gathered, built, connected, and respected by arts education?
  5. While the key issues in arts education are equity oriented, the vast majority of funding in arts education goes to direct service, leaving those who want to advocate to survive on the razor’s edge, even in the good times.

Okay, I am frustrated. And the older I get, the less likely I am to filter. There you have it. To anyone who thinks this was a hostile missive, read the words again and think again about what Manuel Pastor, Marc Freedman, Linda Ronstadt, Janet Brown, Eugene Rodriquez, and others had to say about arts education. Take a moment to rethink. Be part of the velocity of change in your very own backyard.

One more time: Arts Education is Social Justice.

I don’t think the conference planners could have chosen a more perfect performance to illuminate the meaning of the conference than that of Los Cenzontles. It was the real deal. It was the complete package. The music could not have been better. It was traditional and new. It reflected the moving target of what it means to be Mexican American, particularly in how it drew from traditions, while being influenced by other streams of music and culture. The performances were fully committed, from the heart, soul, and tied to great technical abilities. The story of Los Cenzontles was about the building of community, embracing of tradition and change. They used video and very old instruments. They were sweet, funny, touching, and superbly honest. And, if you haven’t figured it out by now, I loved it.

I tip my hat to all concerned in the planning and execution of this conference. I take away so much about the nature of change, that must be reflected upon, and integrated into my own work in my own community. The shapes are indeed shifting, and we must not only shift with it, but do it in ways that make sense for those ready to come along and those not. Just like Los Cenzontles, the shapes must be old into new and the reverse. We must recognize that the pace of change is not static, and not mistake a snapshot for something more long-term. Ultimately I believe in what Sandy Gibson said at the Irvine Foundation session, that we must be savvy and intentional in how we pilot, how we try and fail, as well as succeed. We must all recognize that a commitment to the scientific method, as well as embracing organizational cultures that are based in learning and artistic practice, is not only who we are but what will enable us to evolve in healthy, productive, and essential ways.

Sorry for the speech-ifying. Thanks for indulging me.

Bye from San Francisco.

8 responses to “GIA Conference D3: Final Thoughts (Arts Education IS Social Justice)”

  1. it is a good article about art education is social justice by Richard Kessler.i am agree with these points.specially about “equity”. urban area college or school should follow art education which is necessary for social art education ,we can know all rules about justice.

  2. Great post to try and get those who fund arts education to think about finding some money for those who want to advocate both locally and nationally. It’s hard to keep plugging holes if you don’t have a long range picture and plan for how important arts education is in contributing to the plans of those working for social justice. But…in over the years discussing arts support with those who are development officers for Foundations that are mostly committed to social justice, I’ve found there is a disconnect, especially if the said officer is not an arts fan or participant. The wall one runs into is the loss of a generation (or more) of people who had NO arts education in the first place. How do you convince them?

  3. I agree on many points: that arts education IS social justice, is the big one! As a black woman, an artist and an arts education advocate, my biggest frustration is the broken black community. Though we pour out of our broken hearts in artistic ways individually, too often leadership is not gathering those broken elements to teach and heal so that we become un-broken. Yet, I hope still because I know the power of what I believe concerning the arts ability to reach deeply.

  4. I can’t help but suspect that there are two reasons for the disconnect that Richard describes: The first is that even the most progressive elements of the school reform movement don’t embrace arts education fully as key to their strategies. The second is that the prevailing mental model of arts education is not about equity at all. The conservatories that have set the standard for arts ed for a millenium are not about teaching the arts to everyone, but to a select elite of ‘talented’ individuals who are trained to make art for the highest strata of our society. We are all most familiar with derivatives from that model, and it gets in the way of seeing the enormous power arts ed and artists can have in the fight for social justice.

  5. The arts is social justice for some, not for all. By its very nature, arts allow for individual and cultural expression. It’s another way to tell our stories. Unfortunately, that right is being denied to millions of students in public schools where the arts have been marginalized. The narrow focus on test scores has made teaching an inspired profession and teachers as pawns in a RACE TO THE TOP. Until we as a nation decide that teachers, parents and students deserve schools that are vibrant, inspiring and filled with the joy that arts can deliver, we will not only continue to relegate the arts to after school status, but we will continue to push out the students of color and students with low socio-economic status who need the arts as a way of engaging them in a system that tells them they are invisible.

  6. Daniel Windham of The Wallace Foundation recommends taking the modifier of arts away from education. In other words, the only way to engage with funders and voters is to talk about how creativity, collaboration and equity are essential in our schools and served in astounding ways with the arts. Right now, arts is being pitted against math and science.

    Rather than Arts Education is Social Justice, how about Education leads to Social Justice. One of the most potent and engaging ways is through the arts.

    #OWS (!)

  7. Bracing reminders, Richard and commenters, thank you. Two thoughts:

    1) I agree with Nick and Daniel and see the status quo stuck in framing–we are casting about as a field, and as blog responders, for what the best alternative frame for the arts education value argument is. The existing one, which is held by most education authorities, funders, political and social leaders, and even sectors of the arts field, is the traditional one of art for art’s sake and arts education to serve that system. It has peripheralized, silo-ed, and disempowered arts education. Taking the 30,000 foot view my age invites, our field is casting around for alternative frameworks, and we have many. Having many makes each of them a minority view that doesn’t have power, and as a field we are not moving toward agreement. I see six or more frameworks offered in the above discussion. I have my personal preferences among the nominees, and I propound them often, but don’t feel I am helping the field toward anything. Maybe it is just a process slower than a lifetime.

    2) Richard and others, I am particularly excited by El Sistema, in Venezuela and as it moves into the U.S. because it is the clearest and broadests example I know of an approach that is unabashedly about social justice, equity, engagement, AND excellence–in Venezuela it is achieving all four goals beyond anything I have seen. It raises the bar for all of us as it heads north, and invites us to learn from it and apply its lessons in various ways to various endeavors.

  8. I usually do not drop a lot of responses, however i did a few searching and wound up here GIA Conference D3: Final Thoughts (Arts Education IS Social Justice) | Dewey21C. And I actually do have 2 questions for you if it’s allright. Could it be only me or does it seem like some of the comments appear like they are written by brain dead folks? 😛 And, if you are writing at additional online social sites, I would like to keep up with everything new you have to post. Would you list of every one of all your social pages like your linkedin profile, Facebook page or twitter feed?