A Week of Arts Education in Washington (from Arts Watch)

Posted by Mr. Robert Lynch, Apr 25, 2012 0 comments

Robert Lynch and Alec Baldwin

Alec Baldwin and Robert Lynch speak during the Arts Advocacy Day Congressional Arts Kick-Off.

Robert Lynch and Alec Baldwin

Alec Baldwin and Robert Lynch speak during the Arts Advocacy Day Congressional Arts Kick-Off.

This week I’m in Los Angeles attending a meeting of the U.S. Travel & Tourism Advisory Board and hosting an Arts Action Fund event with Los Angeles arts leaders. As I flew out here, I was thinking about the incredible events of last week that impacted arts education.

It all began with the Arts Education Partnership (AEP) Spring Forum April 12-13, followed by a combined meeting of the Kennedy Center Alliance for Arts Education Network and our Americans for the Arts State Arts Action Network on April 15. The week concluded with our 25th Annual Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts & Public Policy and Arts Advocacy Day on April 16-17.

For those that weren’t able to attend these events, I thought I would share some of my experiences with you.

The AEP forum began with an exciting announcement—the National Endowment for the Arts named Ayanna Hudson, currently with Arts for All in Los Angeles, as their new director of arts education. Ayanna has been a program partner with, and a congressional witness for, Americans for the Arts during her time at Arts for All, and I’m really pleased she’s moving into this national role.

PBS NewsHour education correspondent John Merrow was the closing keynote at the forum, reminding us to let the 80 percent (the percentage of Americans that do not have school-aged children) know the good work that we are doing and how they can support us. In his words: “Don’t plead, lead.”

The next morning, I had the pleasure of speaking to forum attendees, reminding them that their voice is important in supporting arts education and that they are not alone.

I also had the privilege of witnessing a moving performance by students from A Place to Be—an original musical called, How Far I’ve Come. The performance was co-authored by a 17-year-old girl with cerebral palsy, who sees her cerebral palsy not as a disability, but as a gift to teach others about acceptance.

The performance was a testament to the power of the arts education, as therapy for students, as a creative outlet for our youth, and as a way to make a difference in our world.

Rachel Goslins, executive director of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities also gave attendees a sneak peak of their new initiative, Turnaround Arts, which launched this past Monday.

On Sunday, our State Arts Action Network held a joint meeting with the members of the Kennedy Center Alliance for Arts Education Network.

State Education Agency Directors of Arts Education President Lynn Tuttle gave an update on the revision of the National Arts Standards, and walked the group through an overview of what she called a “tornado of education reform” currently happening in our schools. In light of the velocity of change, the group discussed ways that the arts could be a solution to many of the problems that the “tornado of reform” is hoping to address.

Monday evening was our annual Nancy Hanks Lecture, a speech intended to stimulate discussion of policy and social issues affecting the arts. After a rousing introduction by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Maureen Dowd, Oscar-nominated actor Alec Baldwin captivated the audience with his personal journey through the arts. Our own Board Chair Ken Fergeson, Ovation Chairman Ken Solomon, and 2012 Arts Advocacy Day Co-Chair/actor/author Hill Harper also gave brief remarks.

On Tuesday, I witnessed over 550 grassroots advocates visit Capitol Hill to demonstrate their commitment to the arts and arts education and ask their members of Congress to do the same.

Several congressional leaders offered their support, including Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), chairman of the U.S. Senate education committee, who stated on the Senate floor:

“Mr. President, I ask you: How can we produce graduates who are creative and collaborative if we don’t value the arts in our society and teach it in our schools?”

We also received an update on the Obama Administration’s efforts to support arts education at a White House briefing that afternoon.

Many well-known artists joined us on Capitol Hill at a series of bipartisan meetings with members of Congress and staff, and each of them mentioned the importance of arts education. American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance producer/judge Nigel Lythgoe bemoaned the loss of our musical heritage and told Congress that arts education in schools is THE most important area to put money into.

A recent report by the National Endowment for the Arts has confirmed the correlation between arts education and better academic and social outcomes for our youth. Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Education released a report, showing that the nation’s poorest students, the ones who could benefit the most from arts education, are receiving it the least.

This means that even after the excitement in D.C., we still have work to do to advance arts education in our country.

Although Advocacy Day is only a two-day event, our year-round work of advocacy continues.

Many thanks and congratulations to all the arts education advocates who traveled to the District to make it such an incredible week!

(Arts Watch is the bi-weekly cultural policy publication of Americans for the Arts, covering news in a variety of categories. Subscribe to Arts Watch or follow @artswatch on Twitter to receive up-to-the-minute news.)

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