The long-term societal effects of cutting arts educations programs are not often discussed, but John Bracey, director of Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, was able to put it bluntly.
“If you want innovators, inventors, creators or leaders in your workforce, you have to emphasize arts education,” he said. “I continue to hear about school districts considering cutting arts funding, especially at the high school levels. Given all the efforts to reinvent Michigan and the state, especially in these economic times, not understanding that education has to be a holistic effort and include the arts is short-sighted at best.”
Adequate arts education has long been an important topic nationally, and the Kennedy Center Alliance for Arts Education Network is a coalition of statewide not-for-profit organizations working in collaboration to support policies, practices and partnerships that ensure the arts are an essential part of American K-12 education.
“The arts should be part of every child’s education,” said Darrell Ayers, Kennedy Center Vice President for Education. “Too often, participation in the arts is decreased or taken away when test scores go down. We have an obligation as a civilized society to ensure that every child, no matter his or her economic situation, disability or test score, has the arts as part of a complete education.”
Arts education has been shown to improve students’ cognitive abilities, foster problem-solving skills and strengthen academic success.
Bob Morrison, founder of Quadrant Arts Education Research, has conducted arts education research across the country.
“Michigan could be considered a glass half full,” Morrison said. “There are certainly areas in arts education that need improvement.”
Morrison explained that Michigan ranks as one of the lowest of the states studied, in terms of per-pupil arts spending.
“We also looked at the number of students who don’t have access to arts instruction. A little more than 100,000 students in Michigan attended school every day without access to arts education. That needs to be addressed.”
That astonishing number of students with no access to arts education also meant 12 percent of the high schools in the state did not have the appropriate coursework necessary to meet the arts requirement, according to Morrison. Since 2006, the state has required students to complete at least one credit in the arts to graduate from high school.
Another surprising finding was Michigan’s overall usage of community resources. In general, in arts education, community resources can be utilized either through field trips or assemblies, where a speaker, exhibit, performance or other community resource can be brought to the students. Obviously, field trips present a much greater cost to the school, in terms of travel costs.
“Usually there’s an equal amount of assemblies to field trips, or more assemblies,” Morrison explained. “But in Michigan, it’s the opposite, and we hadn’t seen that before.”
Understanding this trend in Michigan could help school districts reallocate spending on activities that are less costly, but offer more opportunities for exposure to the arts.
One attempt at creating a unified voice for arts education throughout the state has been through the Michigan Youth Arts Education Roundtable. Mike Latvis, director of Public Policy at ArtServe Michigan, is a part of the roundtable.
“We had a lot of organizations throughout the state doing arts education work, and we were running parallel with each other and not really making any progress,” Latvis said. “The idea was to start working together and join constituencies and work with the state to make a difference in arts education in Michigan.”
Kim Dabbs, executive director of Michigan Youth Arts, is also part of the Roundtable.
“Since we began this Roundtable in 2008, we have been able to hold three highly successful arts education policy forums that resulted in the 2010 Policy Agenda, which brought together two government agencies and 16 statewide arts education organizations to prioritize the needs of the field,” Dabbs said.
The hope is that eventually, with the collaborative efforts of these organizations, Michigan will be able ensure consistent, quality arts education statewide.