Celebrating National Arts in Education Week

By Diane Brigham, Executive Director

It’s Arts in Education Week (September 11 – 17) across the country, an ideal time for us to consider the impact of art education in our lives as well as within our families, schools and communities. For decades, research has shown that when students participate in the arts as a part of their education, they go on succeed in school, work and life. We certainly see that here at Ryman Arts. We just welcomed our Fall 2016 class, with over 300 students enrolled in our two program sites at Otis College of Art & Design and at California State University, Fullerton.

Designated by Congress in 2010, National Arts in Education Week is intended to be a national celebration of the transformative power of the arts in education, and a reminder of its role in the public K-12 education landscape.

Recently, in Washington, D.C., the new Every Student Succeeds Act was signed into law, replacing No Child Left Behind.  The new bill fully supports the arts as part of every student’s "well-rounded" education. It provides the flexibility for students to learn creatively and for local districts and states to create schools that embrace the arts. What we know is simple: students attend school more often when they have access to the arts, parents and families engage with the schools when schools embrace the arts, dropout rates decrease, grades increase - and the halls are filled with artwork, songs, drama and dancing.  I'm not alone in this belief. According to a recent public opinion poll released by Americans for the Arts, 9 out of 10 Americans believe that the arts are essential to a student's well rounded education. 

Ryman Arts students’ mid-semester work

Arts education fosters the critical thinking skills that are demanded in the 21stcentury in nearly every line of work. Research shows that students engaged in the arts have higher rates of academic achievement, high school graduation, and college matriculation. Arts education engages students in learning, promoting academic success and involvement in community and civic engagement, especially with students from low-income areas. The creative industries in Los Angeles and surrounding counties produce $140 billion annually and provide 1 in 7 jobs according to the Otis College Creative Economy Report, 2015.

However, so often we see that access to quality art education is limited or missing entirely in communities across California and the country. In the Americans for the Arts public opinion poll, 67% of Americans believed that there was not sufficient access to the arts for their students to reap the benefits. Study after study indicates an “opportunity gap” in arts education, especially in lower income communities. Even with some increased arts funding in the latest California state budget allocation for schools, California ranks 44th out of 50 states in funding for the arts (State Arts Agency Legislative Appropriations Preview, FY2016). With already diminished access to fine arts education in California schools, the gap is greatest for students in the lowest achieving districts who receive a bare minimum of art instruction.

Ryman Arts is working to reverse this inequity. Presently, there are no other programs offering tuition-free, out-of-school advanced studio art classes of Ryman Arts’ scale and caliber in Southern California. Last year, our outreach programs at public schools and local community events reached over 2,000 youth most of whom attend schools in low income neighborhoods, introducing them to Ryman Arts and assisting them with the application process

Master Teaching Artist Robin Palanker with students

From our experience over 26 years at Ryman Arts, we observe that artistic teens are hungry to find a community of like-minded peers who also want to delve deeply into art. These youth rarely receive encouragement to pursue their passion, nor get practical guidance for their journeys. From student reports, we understand that the majority of our students also come from immigrant families new to Southern California and most have never visited a university campus or taken an art class outside of school before. Creating access to high-quality arts education, assisting students in finding their artistic   voice and fostering a positive community of emerging artists enables the next generation to enrich society, enhance cultural understanding, and tackle some of the planet’s most complex issues and challenges.  Without Ryman Arts these students would be much less likely to create and exhibit art, learn about arts careers, or understand their role as artists in the community.

As we celebrate National Arts in Education Week, we should take pause to cheer for our accomplishments, but let’s also remember the work we have to do. How can our community help provide equitable opportunities for all of our young people in the arts? How can we use the new law to create arts-rich schools? How can we support parents, families and the community in provide more opportunities for engagement? It's up to all of us -- artists, business leaders, parents, and educators -- to take a stand and lead.