Whose Responsibility is it to Provide Access to Art and Culture? (from Arts Watch)
Last week, I read in Arts Watch that the arts in my hometown of Fairfax County, VA, are threatened due to significant budget cuts. When I was in high school, the public schools in Fairfax County were ranked among the top in the country. We had access to band, orchestra, a great theater department, and many visual art courses to choose from. I took music theory, a course that put me ahead of my classmates when I started college as a freshman music major.
The news about Fairfax County saddened me, because I know that without access to the arts, my career would be very different then what it is today. It also led me to ask a question—if it’s not the public school system’s responsibility to provide a quality arts education for students, then whose is it? Is it the responsibility of non-profit arts organizations? Government? Parents?
I’ve been thinking about this question a lot, and also reminiscing about my own experience in the arts as a young child. While I recognize that the answer to my questions may differ depending on who is answering, when I ask myself again whose responsibility it is to provide quality arts education to children my answer is—it is everyone’s responsibility.
My parents had a piano in our house when I was younger. Even though no one played it very often, it was there. My father was in the military, so we moved every three or four years. However, a mainstay in our household was always classical music. Wherever we lived, we had a family dinner almost every night and classical music was always on in the background. My mother was also dedicated to continually providing time for arts and crafts. Our family collection of painted pine cones that look like Christmas trees, houses made out of Popsicle sticks, and “stained glass” window decorations was mindboggling.
My first memories are from when we were living in Sitka, AK, a small town with a strong Native American and Russian culture. Totem poles in the town square, Russian dolls, and community festivals were a mainstay during our short four years there. A few years and a couple states later, I started the 2nd grade in Elizabeth City, NC – another small town. Although not quite as idyllic as Sitka, art and music were core parts of my education. One day during a general assembly in our elementary school auditorium, the high school band came to perform for the entire elementary school. We heard what each instrument sounded like, and I became completely enamored with the flute. I decided that one day I would learn to play that instrument.
In Elizabeth City, my parents started me out on piano lessons (we already had one, so it was easy), and thus began my foray into learning to play classical music. After four years, we moved again to Ft. Lauderdale, FL. I started the 6th grade at Tequesta Trace Middle School, which had a very strong music and art program. It was here that I began learning flute.
My high school years brought a move to a new state, but my constant was music. West Springfield High School in Fairfax County was where I entered my first state and national competitions, joined youth arts and community music groups, and decided I wanted to continue my music career into college. These many artistic opportunities taught me how to collaborate with other young musicians, learn to think quickly on my feet, and it was a solid hobby that I could always turn to when my other school work became stressful.
Looking back, I realize that my personal arts experience was provided by my parents (arts and crafts time, music lessons, and general support of my desires), my community (arts and crafts festivals, access to art in public space), my schools (strong arts programs, access to art in school), non-profits (community groups that I performed in, museums with free admission), and government (many of the non-profit groups I performed with were supported in part by government funds). We’ve all heard the phrase “It takes a village to raise a child.” Well, I believe that it also takes a village to make sure each child has access to art and culture.
Although I refer to Fairfax County as my hometown, since I moved every few years, I really never had a hometown. The constants in my life have been art, music, and family. If the arts programs truly are cut from Fairfax County’s budget, and there’s nothing that can be done to save them, then that means that parents, community, non-profits, and government are going to have to work that much harder to make sure the arts are available to each child. The optimist in me says it will be okay. But considering how much of my base in arts education was provided by the school system, cuts are a huge cause for concern.
Whose responsibility do you think it is to provide a solid arts education? If you agree or disagree with my take on it, please comment below!