Introduction to the Arts Education Blog Forum
For the next four weeks, Julie Fry, Program Officer  in the Performing Arts Program for The William & Flora Hewlett Foundation, and I will host an ongoing discussion on arts education and the myriad issues and challenges facing the field in moving arts education forward.   So far, thirty-one arts / arts education leaders from across the country have agreed to participate over the course of the month as responders to initial questions put to them.

Week #1:  Practice

Question #1 (today, Monday July 25th):  Where does the debate on arts integration stand at present and what are the principal arguments and concerns on either side – pro or con?   What role can the arts play in the new Common Core standards?
Question #2:  (Tuesday, July 26th): Where do we stand with higher academia in their participation in moving forward arts education?
Question #3: (Wednesday, July 27th):  What is the role of artists and arts organizations in the wider arts education paradigm?

Thursday and Friday – follow up comments and questions.

Performing Arts Workshop’s Executive Director, Jessica Mele’s post on Practice can be read below. Check out the rest of the blog here.

Category:   Practice

Question #3:  What is the role of artists and arts organizations in the wider arts education paradigm?

Jessica Mele –  (Executive Director / Performing Arts Workshop, San Francisco, CA).

What is the biggest barrier to a high-quality education?

Time. Teachers will tell you that there aren’t enough hours in the day to squeeze in creativity. No matter how hard we try, or how much money we bring to the table, time is always the enemy. And squeeze is always the verb.

I would like to suggest that the role of arts and arts education organizations is to unsqueeze the school day. We can do this because we occupy a unique position in the educational landscape. Artists and arts education organizations are outsiders. We are not part of the education world. Arts education organizations go one step further. We’re outsiders to both worlds; our goal is learning, not audience development. Our mission is in the classroom.

This current paradigm has an upside and a downside. Upside: we are often allowed to bring new ideas, try new things in school with a freedom that classroom teachers or arts specialists rarely feel. Downside: education professionals will always see the arts as “outside” of education. It also means that we will play the game of “plugging” holes in the curriculum, rather than true educational partnership.

The arts teach skills that students need but are not getting in most traditional classrooms: critical thinking, leadership, healthy relationships, self-efficacy (see Performing Arts Workshop’s recent evaluation report with findings related to student achievement:   Educators who are committed to these ways of learning often recognize that the arts are a way of better managing the limits of the school day. For example, a science lesson on inertia can explore that concept by learning about bodies in motion, AND through the concept of cause and effect in creative writing. This kind of curricular connection doesn’t take additional instructional hours, but rather leverages existing time.

This kind of collaboration between teachers and artists is a true educational partnership; one that starts from a connection between curricular leaders (“What can we do together?”, rather than “What can we do for you?”). Amazing things can happen in true educational partnerships. And at the same time, are we ready as arts education organizations, arts organizations and teaching artists to engage in this kind of educational partnership? In order to effectively deepen the impact of our work, we have some field building to do. We need standards of pay for artistic staff, and of teaching quality. To date, each organization has had to find its own way compensating, evaluating and training artistic staff. This work is important, and directly related to classroom quality, and yet we are inventing our own wheels without any criteria for what makes a wheel (btw, compensation for wheelmakers is all over the map).

Arts education organizations, arts organizations, and the teaching artists that they staff, offer something unique to the public education system. And some educational leaders see that. If we are to be true educational partners, we need to be up to that partnership.