Arts Education: Foundation for My Future

Arts for LAAs an intern for Arts for LA, I would like to introduce myself and what better way than to tell my story through the impact of the arts!  As a visual artist and arts management graduate student, the arts have been central to my personal and professional development.  There have been three key points in my life that have affirmed my calling to arts advocacy.  Hope you enjoy the first of three blogs which are dedicated to my arts narratives!

Arts Education: Foundation for My Future

My high school experience was common.  Teenage angst crippled my self-esteem and the public school system provided an average education.  Depression was my best friend as I tried to understand my identity and the realities of the impending adulthood.  All too often, I turned to alcohol to escape from the anxiety.  The turning point came in the form of an often over-looked elective class.  I was accepted in an advanced placement program in the studio arts.  By participating in a two year program, I found a firm foundation and a direction that still guides my life’s path.

Highschool ArtVery quickly, the studio art program taught me how to express myself, both technically and creatively.  These new skills became an important coping mechanism and a healthy outlet for critical thinking.  The projects were fun and I actually surprised myself.  During the anxious times, I had started to choose painting over drinking.   The artwork that I made provided a source of self-esteem.  As my talents were nurtured, I was finally proud of myself for something.  This was further reinforced when my teacher asked to hang a piece of my artwork in her home!  As she was a talented artist, it was an honor and gave me the courage to make the arts a central focus for my professional career.

During my junior and senior years of high school, I had developed a multi-medium portfolio that included paintings, drawings and sculptures.  This portfolio was awarded college course credits and assisted my acceptance into UC Davis’s Design program.  Being able to receive credits prior to enrollment, I was able to graduate for college in less than four years while utilizing the skills I had learned.  College life brought times of joy and stress.  With art as my new best friend, I was able to flourish and develop strong relationships.

Arts education may seem like a trivial elective.  A class that is just for fun and not applicable to every child’s growth.  I argue that even if one does not desire to professionally engage with the arts, the practice and production of art is still critical to positive self-expression, self-esteem building, and critical thinking.  This is most important during the years of adolescent development and can provide professional direction.  Art making is seemingly simplistic, but the positive impact should not be minimized or ignored. 

Highschool Art 2James S. Catterall researched the benefits of arts education and published the UCLA Imagination Project's findings in a paper called Involvement in the Arts and Success in Secondary School.  He found that "student involvement in the arts is linked to higher academic performance, increased standardized test scores, greater involvement in community service and lower dropout rates."  The conclusion was drawn that "arts education fosters critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration and innovation".

Art education is often the first on the chopping block during school budget crises. In 2009, 60% of districts surveyed by the Legislative Analysts Office had shifted Arts and Music Block Grant funds away from arts programs and 20% of those districts cut programs altogether.  In 2011, the Legislative Analysts Office reported an alarming increase to 30% in cuts.  Art programs and teachers need support to leverage the importance of their service. 

You can make a difference to assist arts education in our schools.  One way is to contact Arts for All, the LA County organization that is dedicated to create sustainable sequential arts education programs in all LA County schools. To visit their website and learn how you can become involved, click this Link.  The Arts for All website has many resources, such as the 2008 Arts Education Performance Indicators Report, which list each district's participation at the end of the report.

Another way to show support is to write letters and attend school meetings.  Depending on the size of the district, it may be appropriate to contact the school's board or the school site council, which is a group of teachers and parents who advise and monitor the school's expenditure of the key funding.  Letting educational leaders know that arts education is important to you will influence key financial and policy decisions as these leaders are charged to reflect the educational needs and desires of the community.    

Initiating arts education dialogues can seem challenging so Arts for LA has several resources to assist you!  The Arts Education Webpage provides news reports and key links.  The one-sheet outline, called Why Arts Education, outlines the importance of arts instruction to a 21st-century education.  The Title 1 and Arts Education pdf describes the importance of Title 1 funding being secured for arts education and how you can start this discussion with educational leaders.  In addition, you can join an Educational Advocacy Team that is organized by Arts for LA.  These teams engage key stakeholders to strengthen arts education programs.  If you have any questions, you can contact Arts for LA by emailing info@artsforla.org or calling the office at (213) 225-7580!

Photos are of myself and some of my artwork that was created while participating in the highschool AP Studio Art program.