VIEWPOINT: Arts education is not disposable

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Our forefathers had it right. In planning for the eight symbols of Indiana’s values that grace the high arches of the rotunda in the state capitol, art ranks right up there with commerce, justice, liberty, history, agriculture, oratory and law. Each of these is
depicted in 20-foot statues that hold a color palette, a book or a shock of wheat that reveals in iconic form the tools of that particular area. Interesting to note that, without art, none of the beautiful sculptures would be there. So, why, you may ask, is this an important realization?

Somewhere since the creation of our statehood, art and “the arts” have taken it on the chin. During the last 50 years, instead of being understood, welcomed and appreciated as an integral part of every aspect of our society, the arts have been cast into “alternative lifestyle” habiliments. True, Indianapolis now has a mayor, for the first time in decades, who is willing to champion the arts. But why did the arts come into disfavor? Was it Sputnik? Was it the race for space that pushed the pendulum of education too far toward math and science to the detriment of the arts?

The evidence of this disfavor is most visible in our schools. What we are willing to support for our children says a lot about what we value, what we think is important, what we, as a society, want to last. Music and art have too long been considered disposable by a well-intentioned, but misguided, electorate. Decisions made to remove or reduce funding of the arts to balance school and state budgets have proven a shortsighted approach to problem-solving.

The arts have always been the air I breathe. Singing, dancing and acting are, I’m thankful, all in my background. My household was full of statuettes of the great composers and small depictions of the world’s greatest works of art; my mother made sure my sisters and I took art classes. (Since I was the youngest, mine were in a summer parks camp.)

Our appreciation of and involvement in the arts at home was mirrored in our fourroom grade school, where there was a piano in each classroom, used several times a week to enrich our learning experiences. I well remember studying history and creating picture books on various subjects. Music and art were woven throughout our lessons on history, language, science and nature.

My hope is that children in today’s schools will be given the opportunity to learn and express themselves in the variety of ways to which the arts lend them
selves. I understand from research done by the University of California-Los Angeles in 1998 that “arts education makes a tremendous impact on the developmental growth of every child and has proven to help level the ‘learning field’ across socioeconomic boundaries.”

In our quest for attracting new businesses to Indiana, it is important to realize that arts education “builds a school climate of high expectation, discipline and academic rigor that attracts businesses relocating to your community,” according to the Business Circle for Arts Education in Oklahoma’s “Arts at the Core of Learning 1999 Initiative.” In a more recent survey, published June 13 and conducted by the Harris Poll, 86 percent of Americans agree that an arts education encourages and assists in the improvement of a child’s attitude toward school as well as helps teach children to communicate effectively with adults and peers.

Isn’t it time we helped give the education pendulum a good push back toward the arts, thus helping our young people excel and giving our businesses the opportunity to draw from a local and well-educated work force? (For more information on the impact of arts education on successful learning, Google “national research on the impact of arts education.”)

Small is president and CEO of the American Pianists Association.

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