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More Shout Outs for the Importance of the Arts to Education

San Diego may be far from the halls of power in Washington D.C., and even Sacramento, but it’s a rising leader in high tech economic development – an acknowledged key to the United States’ economic future. And the business leaders that have made San Diego a technology success are making the case for the arts in a complete education.

This op-ed in Thursday’s San Diego Union-Tribune by John Eger of San Diego State University lays out the case all over again. And a few weeks ago The Conference Board devoted one of its webcasts to the topic of Arts Education and the Innovative Workforce with San Diego’s Harvey White amongst those presenting.

I know many in the arts feel that altering STEM to STEAM by adding the arts to this common acronym for science, technology, engineering and math is like trying to catch a train that left the station hours ago. Likewise, I know many arts education experts and advocates are simply trying to return to the days when arts education was able to function with some independence from the rest of the educational activities of student learning.

I’m of the opinion that neither is the exact solution. We need to conceive of new ways for arts education to exist at the heart of our school campuses and communities so it becomes an experience and expectation for everyone involved with campus life – from students to parents, teachers to administrators, and neighborhoods to businesses. Schools have the potential to become art making environments that incorporate their entire community, with students at the center of the learning and teaching. This may sound like an abstract notion but it is exactly how El Sistema in Venezuela conceives of itself. It is not exclusively about the education of the children but of the whole family and community.

The great news is I’m seeing more dialogue and energy devoted to the topic of arts education than I’ve seen in years. John Eger mentions some of it in his op-ed. I’m aware of two statewide arts education meetings in California over the past month and Southern California business and work force development leaders are rallying around arts education as an essential part of “creative economy” development.

There is so much work to be done in order for all this talk (and that of national political leaders) to actually result in the arts being embraced by education leaders as an essential part of all students’ education experience. That’s what good programs and strong advocacy can achieve.

Another essential tenant of El Sistema is that everyone is both a teacher and a student. Bringing that spirit of learning to our dreams for more arts in education will help us get to our point on the horizon faster and with more satisfaction of success.

an ArtsJournal blog