The Top 10 Ways to Support Arts Education

Posted by Ms. Kristen Engebretsen, Aug 26, 2011 6 comments

Kristen Engebretsen

This week I got an email from someone concerned about the budget cuts to arts education and inquiring about what they could do to help keep the arts in schools.

In the spirit of my colleague Randy Cohen’s popular post (Top 10 Reasons to Support the Arts), I am presenting my own:

The Top 10 Ways to Support Arts Education

10. Volunteer your time, resources, skills: Many schools would appreciate your time as a chaperone, your skill as a teaching artist, or your donations of money, costumes, rehearsal space, etc.

9. Know the facts: Stay on top of current arts education research, trends, and news articles. Start with Reinvesting in Arts Education, which summarizes research on the topic. Use this data in your messaging when you speak to elected officials or school leaders.

8. Get involved politically: Tell your elected officials why arts education is important. Ask your members of Congress to keep the arts listed as a core subject during the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

7. Pack a one, two punch: Your message to elected officials and school leaders should contain both a warm and fuzzy anecdote AND hard hitting data. Practice your message. Keep it brief. Know who your audience is, and tailor your message to them.

6. Increase visibility of the issue: Host a community conversation or speaker series on the topic, coordinate community fundraisers, write an Op-Ed piece for your local paper, screen a documentary about arts education, and include the arts in school communications (newspapers, newsletters, displays, letters to parents, etc.).

5. Assess your school/community strengths and gaps: First assess your needs: No fourth graders receive music instruction, no dance is offered, high school theater has been cut in half, etc.  Then, take stock of your resources: parent volunteers, afterschool programs, teachers with talents or degrees in the arts, schools with unused stages in the cafeteria, nearby museums or cultural institutions, etc. Now, utilize your assets to strategically address your needs.

4. Forge partnerships: With 93 percent of Americans agreeing that arts education is important, you are likely to find allies. Create a community team to come up with a plan for arts education based on the above strengths/gaps assessment. Include business leaders, teachers, principals, school board members, superintendents, parents, students, arts organizations, etc. See how the TakePART program benefits students and families across an entire region—beyond what can be accomplished within individual schools.

3. Talk to school leaders: Testify at school board meetings. Request meetings with superintendents and/or principals. Use these brochures to start conversations: What School Leaders Can Do to Increase Arts Education by the Arts Education Partnership and My Child, the Arts, and Learning by the Center for Arts Education.

2. Measure your school district’s infrastructure: Arts education in a school district needs a sound infrastructure and can be measured by these 5 indicators:

1)    an arts education policy adopted by the school board
2)    a plan for arts education
3)    5 percent of the general budget to implement the plan
4)    a district level arts coordinator to oversee, implement, and evaluate the plan
5)    a student to art teacher ratio no higher than 400 to 1

Advocate for these five things. Use these indicators as goals. Measure progress by these goals. Thanks to Arts for All, for their extensive, research-based, ground-breaking work on this front, and for shaping how I think about supporting arts education.

1. Be the solution: As you approach school leaders with your message in support of arts education, don’t just insist that principals offer arts education overnight. School leaders are facing tough situations. Offer solutions that help solve these problems. Is the principal having an attendance issue at her school? Show her research that says that the arts can be her solution because they increase student engagement. Offer concrete ways that the arts can be a tool in improving overall education.

6 responses for The Top 10 Ways to Support Arts Education


September 12, 2011 at 9:38 am

interesting. Thanks for sharring

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September 01, 2011 at 5:46 am

Great advice, if everyone does a bit of volunteering, and/or donates the spare time they have, and if everyone works together, then arts education can get back on track.

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Ms. Kristen Engebretsen says
September 01, 2011 at 9:48 am

It truly takes a village!

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August 30, 2011 at 10:52 pm

“When my son entered preschool a couple of years ago in the public school system I was appalled to see the condition of the arts education, or I should say lack of arts education. Even being an artist I was not fully aware of exactly how bad it was. Instead of trying to fight the city and school system, I decided to do things a little differently. I moved my studio into a larger space and opened it up as Color Wheel Studio. This is an actual real working artist studio where children can see the progress and development of art and also how an artist studio is run. How are other people trying to alleviate this problem?”

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November 17, 2011 at 9:38 am

Art education is very important to society on a whole. Art is a wonderful learning tool for children and it adds beauty to life .

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June 13, 2012 at 12:37 am

I am a product of arts in education so I think this article is very important. My K - 8 school experience was extremely rich. I played trumpet, drums, alto sax, clarinet, recorder, flute, and tenor sax before I left the eighth grade. If I could right now, I would hug all of my music teachers for giving me the opprtunity to explore playing so many different instruments. Although the only instrument I mastered was drums, I evolved into an excellent vocalist with a keen sense of musicality. Through my formative years, I was exposed to Gilbert and Sullivan operettas at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and I had a role in every musical production.

I love this article as I am a huge proponent of the arts in education. You see, 18 years ago I left show business to become an elementary school classroom teacher. While a performer, I spent years in regional theatre, film, and on the Broadway stage. As a result of my background in the arts, I have integrated music, drama, and visual art into my daily core curriculum lessons. Some of my students from years past are currently professional singers and musicians as a result of something I had the privilege to teach them.

Because I have seen what exposure to the arts can do for youth. I have developed a children's TV show that will use the arts as a vehicle to teach science, math, social studies, reading, and writing on the tube. I want as many students as possible to be exposed to the arts in education...especially those beyond the 4 walls of my classroom who might not have arts programs in their school buildings. As you know, funding for the arts is sometimes difficult to come by. To that end, I will use as an alternative means to get funding for my project, Tootie's Education Empire. My campaign will launch on at the end of June 2012 and go until the end of July 2012. As Kristen said, I'm trying to "Be the solution" for arts exposure to today's youth.

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