Support the Arts with Knowledge!

How to get

By Solara Martin

Imagine a life with no art. No paintings hung in the living room, no music in the coffee shop you visit frequently, and no live entertainments at public gatherings. Boring, right? The arts are so vital to human life, almost so much that we take it for granted. We live in a world where community engagement and support are incredibly important to the success of the arts in a school district and/or community. I wanted to know exactly how much the public knew about arts policies that will affect the arts directly and indirectly in their communities. I decided to create a google survey that would allow for participants to anonymously provide information about the knowledge they have on arts policy that affects their communities. The survey received 190 responses and was very eye opening. This blog post will be a reflection on the survey responses in hopes to provide knowledge about arts policy in our country or specific communities and how we can be involved.

The arts are something that tends to be valued by many people. The arts bring life to a community and engage people in something creative and exciting. Many times, the heart of a good arts community starts with music and art in public school districts. Parades, public concerts, football games…these are all places where the community has exposure to the music programs in their own communities. Overall, most people are supportive of the arts in their communities and schools, but in spite of that, people are very uninformed on how to do so. On a scale from one to ten, with ten being the most supportive, 88.9% of participants indicated an eight or above to support funding music and arts programs in public schools. 74.2% indicated a ten in full support of funding the arts. This was incredibly encouraging to see that there are community members who truly supported the arts. However, there was a shockingly low amount of participants who indicated that they did not know any or knew very little about policies currently in place or about how to get involved in those policies at the national, state, and local levels.

Many people are familiar, or at least have heard of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) that was signed in December of 2015. Though this is a large act that encompasses many different aspects for education in our public school districts, many people do not realize that music is one of those aspects. 133 participants of the 190 answered that they do not know how ESSA affects the arts, and another 47 answered that they know very little. Here is what you need to know. ESSA lays out a description of what is considered a “well rounded education”. Within this description is the very first mention of music being part of a well rounded education in the history of these kinds of acts initiated by congress. This was a huge step for music education, but as we move forward in the world today, we see that oftentimes music is still being left out from this definition and is losing funding because of that. This is why it is so important for us to be informed as community members so that we can push for that funding to be equally distributed.

Another very important piece of legislation that is currently impacting music and the arts in our public schools is the Guaranteed Access to Arts and Music Education Act (GAAME Act). A quote by Jesse Rifkin for GovTrack Insider gives some statistics about art programs in public schools: “3.9 million public elementary school students have no access to visual arts classes, while 1.3 million have no access to music classes, according to the U.S. Department of Education”. This is a shockingly large number of schools that are not able to provide these programs for students. When asked about the GAAME Act, 87.9% of survey participants indicated that they do not know what the GAAME Act is. What the act does is provide music and arts education to students by relocating funds from already existing locations and targeting it towards arts in public school districts. This is another example of where community engagement can make a large difference.

“3.9 million public elementary school students have no access to visual arts classes, while 1.3 million have no access to music classes, according to the U.S. Department of Education”

At the national level, it is important that legislators are hearing from the community members they represent. Since most of their time is spent in Washington D.C., representatives are not in the communities where these policies are affecting their arts programs in their own public schools. It is so important that community members are writing and communicating with their representatives about what they want to see, including funding for the arts within their school districts. One way community members can get involved is to travel to D.C. and set up meetings with legislators to discuss current arts funding and hopefully persuade them to support the arts. Events such as the National Association for Music Education “Annual Hill Day” is an option for those who wish to participate but want to do it within a group setting or individual meetings can be set up with their staff to discuss current issues. Obviously that can be a costly way to get involved with national policies regarding the arts, so the easier way is to simply write. Write emails, send letters, record videos. Anything you can do to capture your story and share it makes a difference. And of course, vote. Vote for the representatives that you know are going to support the arts and education within your community.

It is much easier to get involved in arts policy at the state level. Getting involved is very similar to national level involvement, except a much more feasible option. Again, you can visit your state’s capital and make appointments to speak with the representatives who you are a constituent of. Often a visit to the state capital is a simple day trip in the car. Write letters and send videos explaining the importance of the arts within your schools. Often it’s the state level legislation that dictates where the funding is going and to which schools.

Some of the most important involvement for the arts comes from the local level. This can also be the easiest way to get involved so it is even more important that we are taking note to support the arts locally. This could be attending school district meetings especially when funding is a topic. Being able to successfully state the positive effects that art programs make on students can be critical. It shows that community members are seeing the effects from an outside viewpoint. You could also reach out to local arts agencies. Americans for the Arts states, “The nation’s 4,500 Local Arts Agencies (LAAs) promote, support, and develop the arts at the local level ensuring a vital presence for the arts throughout America’s communities”. This is an easy way to get information about what is happening locally with the arts. Being a part of an organization like this can also open a lot of doors for participating in local events that are powered through the arts. And my personal favorite form of involvement at the local level is to just show up. Show up to high school concerts, elementary school programs, middle school art shows, and community band events. You don’t have to be or have been a musician to show your support. All you have to do is show up and participate in the enjoyments that the arts bring to your own community.

But if all else fails, and you cannot seem to find the time to write a letter or attend an event, support the arts with knowledge. Know who you are voting for, know what policies they support, and know how that affects the arts in your community and school districts. Policy can be confusing, talk to local leaders who are closely involved with policy in the community and ask for help in understanding exactly how it is going to benefit the community and how it will benefit or hurt your local arts organizations. If we don’t step up as a community for these things, we will soon live in a world where the arts have to fight to exist, and many will not make it. That will result in a quiet and boring world. We too often take the arts for granted, but without them, we will not have the luxuries that make life enjoyable. We must be investing in the younger generation to carry on the arts so we can continue to enjoy arts and music in our world.

Let’s start conversations in our communities. Show up for what you support, show up for things you are against. And most importantly, listen to others so that when it is your turn to speak, they listen to you. There is just not enough conversation regarding the arts, and we can change that. Over 60% of participants noted that they are moderately to highly interested in expanding their knowledge about art policies within their community. This is so exciting and incredibly encouraging. I push for us to participate in our communities to support the arts in a variety of ways, including expanding our own knowledge and the knowledge of others.

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