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Tennessee Wesleyan University

Arts Education:

Irrefutably Valuable

Leslie Arnold

Theory and Research COM400

Dr. Ron Gilbert

Spring 2019
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Arts Education: Irrefutably Valuable

It is an age-old debate about whether or not the arts are something that is worthwhile to

study. People assume that learning how to draw a bowl of fruit or how to cry on command for an

audience do not have any real-life applications and are therefore a waste of both money and time.

However, statistics and research all prove otherwise. The arts have the unique ability to allow

people to connect the dots between what they learn tangibly in school classrooms to the real

world. They teach children that these subjects have real-life applications. The arts benefit people

mentally and spiritually while strengthening the bonds of community. They raise young people

to be more aware of what is going on around them, responsible, creative, and demonstrate better

leadership and critical thinking skills. In the end, the arts are irrefutably valuable. “Access to the

arts has fueled generations of great Americans, uplifted communities and helped heal our

nation’s greatest divides. Cutting federal support of these programs will not only hurt artists and

those who benefit from their work, it will also send a damaging message to future generations

about the power of art and its place in our culture” (Gelt and Vankin).

Throughout the United States are havens for the arts. These centers are places for artists

of all ages to gather, experience, and hone their craft at all levels. However, a large question that

lingers on the minds of people in the United States and beyond is whether or not these centers for

the arts are worth the costs associated with a community center like this. In the year of 2018, the

United States nearly lost funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, with a proposed cut

to the budget at the federal level. This proposed cut did not end up passing, and the National

Endowment for the Arts ended up receiving an allocated $155 million for the fiscal year of 2019

(National Endowment for the Arts). Arguably, this money could be used for other uses, however
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at what cost? What does arts education actually do to benefit society? How do we benefit as

communities and people from the arts as a whole? Why are they actually needed today?

One may ask oneself how these centers can afford to stay up and running. Overall, these

centers operate on 40.7% of their own earned income and 44.9% contributed income from

various federal, state, and local corporate and membership sponsors1 (National Endowment for

the Arts). Because of this, different centers are allotted different amounts of money for yearly

spending, and a center’s given budget can fluctuate wildly year to year. Naturally, some areas

cannot find funding to cover the expenses of a formal center with a building or office space. This

leads to meetings in schools after hours, churches, and other community centers not formally

dedicated to the arts education of the communities.

From the beginning of society, we strive to expose people to the arts to make them in turn

better-functioning members of society. These arts collaborations in these scenarios are not unlike

arts centers in the United States today. At the turn of the century, these centers began to emerge

in settlement houses, where the purpose was to assist immigrants with acquiring necessary skills

to make it in a new and unknown society. This goal of arts centers has not changed over the

years. Today, we strive to dedicate arts centers to public service in the community. Centers work

to identify and address the needs of a community. For example, this may include a drumming

circle workshop designed to help at risk youth in Athens, Tennessee learn how to effectively

manage their emotions and express themselves. This may include intercultural music making to

engage different areas of the community for a common goal of reconciliation and awareness for

other communities right next door. Regularly these arts centers are begun to change an aspect of

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The remaining 14.4% of funding is from interest and endowment income.
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community that is troubling, or to enhance life in a community. For instance, The Artist’s

Collective in Hartford, founded in 1970, was designed to offer the arts as an alternative to gang

life and drugs in the community. The Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild was founded in 1968 to

build bridges between at-risk youth in Pittsburgh and the possibility of furthering their education

with a college career. (Davis) “The arts at their best in our society complement and mutually

celebrate community and connectedness” (Milner).

Arts centers in communities prioritize development on multiple levels. Personal and

interpersonal development, arts skill building, preprofessional training, cultural and intercultural

awareness, and commitment to community service and development are some of the important

goals that these centers focus on. Some similarities can be found between arts centers and school

in this light. For instance, in most universities today, one is required to complete some pre-

requisite classes to gather a better understanding of the world around them. Often these are

summarized into different areas such as cultural appreciation, which is seen in the above list

detailing goals or benefits of arts centers. Some colleges and high schools require their students

to complete some community service before graduation to ensure that students gather an

understanding of commitment to communities and development of these communities. This is

another goal listed in the above list. Arts centers are known for teaching students and community

members invaluable skills. They place value on cognitive skills, enhancement of critical

thinking, discipline, and focus. Arts centers provide education in personal and interpersonal

goals such as self-awareness, self-expression, confidence, respect for others, and valuable

communication skills. Arts centers also provide support for local and regional artists to support

local professionals. They teach knowledge of heritage and the importance of intergenerational

community. The values of creativity, respect, communication, and confidence are taught through
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the arts education provided in these arts centers. “What does it mean to make arts and to make

conversation, not to people, not about people, but with people? Which is our task in this century

– inclusion, collaborations, working together?” (Milner)

The arts and humanities have lasting impacts in our most foundational being as people.

Traumatized children at crisis centers draw what they cannot say. People with disabilities create

art pieces about their lives. Infants learn to dance and recognize music since the womb. Arts are

at our core as humans. Why are we trying to suppress that as a society? The arts have the unique

ability to help those who are vulnerable in today’s society be able to articulate themselves in a

world that usually doesn’t listen. Through this, they learn that they are not alone. Arts centers

provide a place of acceptance and understanding with life’s worst situations. “I tried to kill

myself…The day after, I saw your first public show, and I don’t know what happened, but your

show completely changed my life. It brought me out of my depression, and for that I am very

thankful!” (Milner) This is just one example of the life altering stories associated with

discovering the arts and the powerful communication and expression that we can experience

through them.

Regularly, children who take part in community arts centers find that they can participate

in creative activities in which to “encounter their own importance – to themselves, to others, and

to society writ large.” Through the experiences that being involved with the arts bring, children

find that they learn singular and invaluable lessons. Researchers have found that these centers

provide students with “entrepreneurial encounters, opportunities for work that they see having a

positive impact on their communities, and the chance to meet high expectations and experience

deep engagement.” From the opportunity to stage manage a theatre production to organizing a

Saturday youth arts class, these students are getting the opportunity to assume responsibility and
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leadership skills necessary to succeed in the world today. These very skills are what schools and

institutions try to encourage through other options like sports and math clubs, just in an artistic

fashion. Administrators looking to find areas to cut from budgets must look beyond the surface

level of painting, dressing up, and dancing around a stage to see the valuable traits and skills

learned through these experiences for children today. (Davis)

A common complaint that artists of all kinds have is that schools are regularly cutting

funding to the arts whenever they are faced with budgetary issues. This is something that people

regularly discuss and is a common theme even in our United States government with the money

allocated to the arts nationwide. This is believed to be an issue based on the fact that we can see

the changes that happen when the arts are cut completely from schools reflected in our

community. It is taking the community to give children the opportunity to express themselves

and achieve quality arts education. For instance, in 1972 in New York City, community arts

centers worked to mend the schools around them damaged by the removal of quality arts

education by placing visiting artists in schools. The Harlem School for the Arts provided

transportation for schoolchildren to come to their center to receive arts education. Even locally,

The Arts Center in Athens, Tennessee works within the schools to provide students around the

county with opportunities to hear and experience travelling professional musicians, be exhibited

in a local art show, and take part in miniature concerts within their own auditoriums. However,

should we let it reach the point where a community entity must step in to provide children with

opportunities to receive quality arts education?

Most often today, we see the arts being not entirely eliminated, but rather cut to the level

and importance of that of an extracurricular activity. We see this in after-hours choir rehearsals,

art classes and exhibitions, and theatre rehearsals. This does not accurately reflect the importance
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and value of the arts and the lessons and skills they teach our children though. What we see

being put onto the forefront of importance in schools are the surface level lessons in math,

English, and science. However, the less “test-able” qualities are beginning to be seen as lesser

than and unneeded in comparison with those subjects that bring forth higher test scores. These

lesser-than qualities include leadership, creativity, critical thinking, and job readiness. These are

areas that the arts are interjecting themselves into. They are teaching children to be curious,

hardworking, and determined. Art is actually a conglomerate of subjects that schools put value

on, only brought into real world applications. Why then do they receive lesser-than credit in the

eyes of administrators? For example, a popular theatre musical, Les Misérables, teaches history

in the context and situations the characters are dealing with. It teaches psychology in why the

characters respond to different situations. It deals with even mathematics in the balance of

proportions regarding the set pieces and construction. It is a way that teaches children and youth

in today’s world that there are real-world applications for the things they learn in school. Why is

this something to be removed from the very education it helps promote? The absence of proper

arts education in schools not only deprives children of experience, it perpetuates devaluation.

(Davis)

The lessening value of the arts in school systems today can be accredited to a need

amongst administrators to put value only on things they can measure quantifiably, versus other

important life skills that cannot be measured in such a way. These other innumerable skills

include leadership, skill application, critical thinking, creativity, and discipline. These skills are

equally, if not arguably more, important than some skills featured in SAT and ACT tests. This is

a large difference between arts education and traditional education. There is actually a large

amount of international research that supports the relationship between arts education and the
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health and wellbeing of students, their families, and communities. For example, big hART

revealed that those students involved with arts projects demonstrated increased

“emotional/mental health, family reintegration, employment options, suicide prevention, and

crime prevention” (Houbolt). Many times, in arts education, progress is assessed in terms of a

student’s own developing skill set, rather than a quantitative scale. Art teachers grade students

similarly, whether their painting assignment was painted in more of an abstract art style or a

realistic art style. Before moving up a level, teachers ask themselves if their artistry has grown

enough to be able to learn from the next level what is necessary to succeed. In fact, the same

questions that artists in a community share with students to help them progress in their studies

can be applied to any subject in any classroom to help promote the growth of the student. “Art

centers remind us that many human capacities – many worthwhile outcomes for learning – such

as empathy and the ability to assume multiple perspectives, quite rightly defy quantitative

measurement.” (Davis)

If one wishes to view the values of the arts in purely a statistical and numerical value

system, in regard to how the arts raise or lower various testing scores and the possibilities of

students succeeding in higher education, there are still valid support systems for the arts in place.

Research shows that arts education “enhances cognitive learning; improves attention,

engagement, attendance, and perseverance among students; provides unique avenues for parent

and community involvement; and inspires positive transformation of school community and

culture” (Appel). Participation in the visual arts enhances reading skills and cognition of the

meaning behind text, improves organization and body of writing, and develops reasoning and

critical thinking. Those engaged in music show enhanced cognitive development, and improved

spatial and temporal reasoning, as well as increased capabilities in math (Appel). Statistical
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studies have demonstrated associations with arts education to have “test score improvement even

in non-arts subjects such as math.” There is a proven positive association between the studying

the arts and higher SAT scores. In fact, the longer that students study in the arts in addition to

their academic studies, the higher the SAT score. The arts cannot be assumed the only

correlation between the two however. In most cases, well-funded and affluent schools offer more

arts programs. This is not to be brushed off as a coincidence or excuse for schools to not offer the

arts as options for students to participate, but rather as a goal. We must look at this and be open

to the possibility that in order to be more like one of these more affluent schools, we can strive to

have more artistic opportunities for students like they have worked into their curriculum. (Davis)

Hopefully the goal of this essay is clear, and that is to prove that proper arts education has

not only a place, but a need in both society and schools today. Arts education is intrinsically

valuable and contributes to the growth and development of socially responsible and mature

human beings, ready for a world that they do not yet know. However well community arts

centers provide arts education on multiple levels, we should not have to depend on these

independent community groups to teach children what should be taught in schools. This

approach shortchanges our youth, depriving them of the opportunities that being involved in the

arts provides. The arts, in short, stimulate the brain and teach concepts that are otherwise of great

value to our education system. When infused correctly through the education curriculum, the arts

have “limitless potential to impact learning, teaching, and the school community in a holistic

fashion” (Appel).
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Works Cited

Appel, Morgan P. "Arts Integration Across the Curriculum." Leadership (2006): 14-17.

Davis, Jessica Hoffman. "Learning from examples of Civic Responsibility: What Community-

Based ARt Center Teach Us about Arts Education." Journal of Aesthetic Education

(2010): 82-95.

Gelt, Jessica and Deborah Vankin. Los Angeles Times. 16 March 2017. 15 April 2019.

Houbolt, Sarah. "Youth Arts: Creativity and Art as a Vehicle for Youth Development." Youth

Studies Australia (Nov 2010): 46-52.

Milner, Jenifer. "Arts Impact: Arts and Culture in the Community." Performing Arts (2002): 11-

12.

National Endowment for the Arts. "How the United States Funds the Arts." Art Works (Nov

2012): 1-17.

—. National Endowment for the Arts Appropriations History. 2019. 15 April 2019.