Thursday, August 11, 2011

Arts Education Blog Forum - Week 3 Follow Up Questions

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on........................."

Week 3 Follow-Up Questions:

1. What would a national policy on arts education look like? What provisions would it ideally contain? How do we insure (as Richard suggests) it have “teeth” to it?

2. How we can represent all of the myriad voices, needs, and agendas out there on a national level with standards and a policy agenda? Is it possible for the field to begin by putting forward a few key tenets that we can more easily share as part of a policy message?

Bob Lynch:

In pondering Barry’s reflection questions, I immediately think of the Arts Education Working Group. Here is how this coalition is responding to Barry’s questions:

The Arts Education Working Group, a coalition of national arts and arts education advocacy organizations, has written a set of legislative recommendations for thereauthorizations of NCLB.  The coalition continues to work with House and Senate committee staff to incorporate the following recommendations into the reauthorization drafts:

    • Retain the Arts in the Definition of Core Academic Subjects of Learning
    • Require Annual State Reports on Student Access to Core Academic Subjects
    • Improve National Data Collection and Research in Arts Education
    • Reauthorize the Arts in Education Programs of the U.S. Department of Education
Americans for the Arts has also joined peer efforts in the larger education policy arena, such as signing onto the Broader, Bolder Approach toEducation statement, which details the need for educational policy to address economic inequalities and to reconsider the parameters of the school day in order to ensure student success.  Here’s an excerpt from their website:

“The time has come for U.S. policy makers to rethink their assumptions and adopt a broader, bolder approach for education...The new approach recognizes the centrality of formal schooling, but it also recognizes the importance of high-quality early childhood and pre-school programs, after-school and summer programs, and programs that develop parents’ capacity to support their children’s education. It seeks to build working relationships between schools and surrounding community institutions…”

The Arts Education Working Group invites state and local organizations to join the efforts to create a broad, bold national education policy by signing-on to a statement in support of arts education: Arts Education: Creating Student Success in School Work andLife.

This 2010 paper is an update of the original unified statement that the coalition created in 2007, which was endorsed by more than 60 national organizations, representing a cross-section of stakeholders in federal education policy, including teachers, parents, administrators, schools, education policymakers, corporations, artists, and arts and community based institutions. The statement has been refreshed to reflect new research and policy.

If you would like to add your organization's name to those already supporting this unified statement, please email Kristen Engebretsen, Arts Education Program Coordinator at Americans for the Arts, To see the organizations who have currently signed on in support of the unified statement, please visit:

3. As Richard asked: Who will lead the effort to try to develop a consensus national arts education policy that focuses on the child / student; how might that best be pursued; and how will such an effort be funded? And we might add: When will that happen?

4. How do we recognize the local nature of arts education, but, as Janet advised, fly at the 30,000 foot level and insinuate ourselves deeply into the wider education matrix and debates?

5. As Bob noted, Americans for the Arts has built the framework for a national arts education lobbying effort. But as Narric noted, the federal support is a small percentage of overall funding. How do we grow that infrastructure, integrate it vertically and apply it locally (as Narric suggests) in the face of continuing threats to arts advocacy efforts as typified by the plight of the New York State Alliance for Arts Education, which as reported Monday in the New York Times, is struggling to stay afloat? “The arts education alliance’s some 100 members are struggling to pay dues of $35 to $250. ‘Paying membership dues to support advocacy or making payroll — that decision doesn’t even get considered’,” said Jeremy Johannesen, its executive director.

6. In that same New York Times article, Robert W. Wilson, a former New York City Opera chairman who now serves on the Metropolitan Opera board, is quoted as saying: “I’ve never supported any of these groups (advocacy), and I’ve never seen any reason to do so. I would rather support the arts organizations themselves.” How do we deal with this attitude of dismissing advocacy efforts within our own ranks, and how prevalent and big a problem might that be for us?

Richard Kessler:
Okay, where do I start? First, it really bugged me the Robin's piece in The Times asserted a false dichotomy, that advocacy organizations must be different from presenting/performing organizations. It's one or the other. Well, I am not so sure about that. Particularly in arts ed, I think there will be more and more emerge that do both. In fact, there's a lot to aspire to in that hybrid model, not the least of which is that by providing advocacy/policy and programs, you're work in advocacy/policy is informed by actual practice. I also think that the field has been too hung up on the notion that you have to be a membership association in order to advocate. Here the problem is that the association's primary interest is in its membership. When we considered becoming a membership association at The Center for Arts Education, we ultimately dropped the idea, after we asked the question of who our primary constituent was. The answer: the children. Funny enough, when the NYC Department of Education was trying to minimize some of CAE's public criticism, they actually accused CAE of being a pawn for the arts organizations who were our members. It would be better to allow form to follow function, rather than insisting on certain organizational models just because that's they way it's been done.

I do think that quote by Robert Wilson underscores a problem to be addressed. It is short sighted of donors to only support organizations providing direct service or presentation/production. If a funder is interested in arts education, it is critical that they recognize the need for a variety of support/organizations. This is true for institutional and individual funders. Perhaps this is an area that Americans for the Arts might want to take on, in terms of a national campaign to educate donors and funders as to the importance of advocacy?

I really think this is an area that institutional funders need to support, and in turn, their support could lead to more broad-based support of advocacy/policy. Really, isn't it obvious, with all the challenges, that we need real advocacy and policy work?

Narric Rome:

Furthering advocacy in the face of this adversity takes educating of funders, and I would again highlight the article mentioned in my blog, a 2008 report from The Atlantic Philanthropies that states:

"…funding advocacy too often is the philanthropic road not taken, yet it is a road most likely to lead to the kind of lasting change that philanthropy has long sought through other kinds of grants.”

Funders in the larger educational field have started to fund advocacy (see the article Behind Grass Roots School Advocacy, Bill Gates.)  If we want the same thing in arts education, we need to begin educating our own funders about the importance of advocacy work. 

Unfortunately, it sounds like the gentleman quoted in the New York Times article is not informed about this possibility of philanthropy creating systemic change.  This demonstrates that much of advocacy work is simply educating decision-makers and communicating our message well.

If we want to keep programs around like the ones at the Metropolitan Opera, someone has to do the work of creating policy to protect them because (and I quote my colleague Richard Kessler here) “Programs do not equal policy.”  And someone also has to do the work of advocating for funds that will ensure the program’s existence.

I’ll leave you with the lyrics of a Kenny Rogers song:

Somebody should do something about it
How hard could it be
Somebody should do something about it
Maybe that someone is me”

7. If, as Laurie points out, the battles are continuing to gravitate down to the local school districts where the real decision making is at play, how are we ever going to be able to organize and manage the effort, and who will pay for that effort say in California with 1000 school districts? Does this reality virtually insure an inequity problem that we will likely never overcome, and what are the implications for that?

8. How do we shift emphasis and gears to embrace Cyrus’ observation (echoed by Janet) that: “arts education policy is in fact educational policy, and those of us who are committed to arts education must be capable of working effectively in the educational policy space, to become part of the struggle for educational equity more generally, and to assure that arts learning is at the core of how the education field envisions 21st century schooling.?” Who needs to be at the table with us, and how do we encourage them to join the effort, or conversely, how do we get invitations to sit at their tables?

Next week:  Category:  Research

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