This week, Washington Post reporter Valerie Strauss wrote about why the arts are, more often than not, the first budget cut at public schools serving predominately low-income students–even though much research has supported why the arts are critical to a child’s development. These schools’ tight budgets force them to prioritize the subjects covered in standardized tests that both measure students’ achievement as well as teachers’ ability. Ms. Strauss argues that the focus on testing has forced educators to ignore what they know about the positive and transformative impact of the arts in the classroom.
Less fortunate children have been on the receiving end of what I’d call an emergency-room approach to education —one that addresses only the parts of a child thought to be in most dire need of attention. Their curriculum may consist solely of reading, writing and mathematics – the subjects tested on high-stakes exams.
Ms. Strauss notes how, for privately funded and operated schools, the approach to the arts can be starkly different. These schools proudly highlight the arts and their importance to developing well-rounded students and individuals. With adequate funding, arts learning opportunities are not only available but celebrated.
Young Audiences has seen this disparity in access to the arts in Maryland and is striving to close the gap so that all students have the chance to learn in and through the arts. Since its launch in the winter of 2009, our Access for All Initiative has subsidized programs for students in low-income Baltimore City Public Schools to ensure that all students have equitable access to the best artists and educational arts experiences that our state has to offer. The initiative offers three rounds of grant funding each school year to schools that serve a majority of low-income students and do not have regular arts programming.
Young Audiences awarded a total of $29,600 in funding to 16 Baltimore City schools in the first round of Access for All grants awarded earlier this week to start the 2014-2015 school year. These funds will be used to bring Young Audiences artists and ensembles to students through arts-in-education programs this fall. Schools can choose from a steel drum assembly, creating a ceramic mural during an artist-in-residence program, an African drumming workshop, and many more.
Ms. Strauss summarizes why the arts are critical to the education process, writing:
Arts transport. It’s often said they are an essential part of what makes us human – and an element of that is the ability to imagine another reality, apart from the one we are living, a skill essential to resilience and ambition. Children already living a in a narrowed world need more access to the arts, not less.
Young Audiences agrees. One day, every school–no matter its resources–will value the arts for their ability to inspire and engage students in learning. Until then, we will be working to increase access to the arts so that Maryland students have the opportunity to imagine, create, and realize their full potential through the arts.
Learn more about the Access for All Initiative and the next grant application deadline.