Although funding for arts education has been decreasing en masse in public and private schools across the country for decades, numerous scientific studies have shown time and time again that art education is a transformative force in schools. Meaningful access to art education has a deep impact on almost every aspect of a student’s educational experience and their professional futures.
At IPaintMyMind, our mission to promote equity in access to arts education is driven by this knowledge. We know that when arts education is fully funded, students thrive. When it comes to Chicago, making arts education available to all is also a way to close the gap between low-income schools and high-income schools. CPS has a legacy of unequal investment in different areas of the city, which profoundly affects the reality of thousands of students to this day. In many high-income neighborhoods, schools have robust and well-endowed arts programs. In low-income neighborhoods, schools may not have an art teacher at all, let alone sufficient resources and art materials.
As we work to provide all students with well-funded, robust, and relevant art education, we’re also combating deep-seated educational inequities. We’re ensuring the future generations of students won’t have an education that’s only as good as their neighborhood’s tax base or their parents’ income.
Beyond even that, we’re working towards a future when each student has a support network and feels able to communicate their needs with their teachers and peers. We want kids from all backgrounds to feel valued in educational spaces. Art education provides a space to heal, process, communicate, and connect. Art is a human right, and everyone deserves access!
Art education often manages to reach students that may be slipping through the cracks of the school system, and helps to inspire and re-invigorate how they approach learning. If traditional school subjects are frustrating or alienating to students, art education could be the subject that finally reaches them. Once they have an interest in one school subject, it can rekindle their academic motivation and drive, and renew an interest in school.
Art education can also provide a creative outlet for students who are struggling with issues in their home life, mental health crises, or other invisible stressors, which left unmanaged, could lead to drop-outs. Art class can provide a support system for students, allowing them to express themselves, process their emotions, and even communicate openly with others through art or about art.
Art education engages students with much more than art; strengthening writing, reading, critical thinking, logic, and general cognitive skills. Art education can also be a springboard to increased participation in academics, inspiring students through connections between art and many other disciplines. Students who are interested in art will realize that it overlaps with history, literature, science, and every other topic under the sun.
We believe that art education is empowering and sets students up with the skills and attitude to go after higher education and other professional aspirations. Students who have access to fully funded art education feel empowered to pursue a Bachelor’s degree, even if they may be the first in their family to go to college. Through the communication and processing skills that they’ve unlocked in their art education they can reach out for help, make their needs known, and search out advocates who will help them get into college and succeed once they’re there.
Arts education in elementary school and high school fosters critical tools and skills that are needed for professional jobs. Communication, creative problem solving, critical thinking, and good teamwork can all be strengthened and developed by art education. These skills are also in high-demand in the world of professional work, and will help students get hired at high-paying jobs once they’re out of school.
Not only does access to art education inspire students to pursue a Bachelor’s degree, it helps ensure that they’ll graduate and complete their degree program. Low-income students are often the first in their families to attend college, and may not have the support system that a higher-income college student would. Art education gives students the tools and confidence to seek out guidance and assistance, and ask for what they need in a classroom.
The state of work is rapidly changing and evolving, and in today’s labor market, creativity and creative problem solving are some of the most valuable skills that you can have. With increasing automation, so-called “soft-skills” are in high-demand. These are the more intuitive and less well-defined set of skills that you need in a workplace, and their development is well-served by art education.
If you were to take a look at school funding disparities between low-income and high-income schools in the same school systems (for instance, CPS), you’ll almost certainly find that the biggest funding gaps are in the creative realm. Core subjects like English, Math, and Science are somewhat standardized on the national, state, and municipal levels, and school systems have to hit target goals across the board to maintain their funding.
However, creative subjects like art, music, creative writing, or drama are not subject to the same standards. So when a school in a low-income area has less funding to work with and has to make cuts, the arts are surely where the bulk of cost-saving cuts occur. Spread over decades, the result is a drastically different reality in low-income and high-income schools.
The saturation of arts and other creative subjects will be dramatically lower in low-income schools and those schools may be performing worse generally without the critical creative skills their students are missing out on. By administering art education equitably between schools in different income brackets, educational gaps start to close, and testing scores, grades, English proficiency, and many other markers of success move towards equivalence in both sets of schools.
Art education usually has a net positive impact on a student’s academic performance, boosting other areas of study and development. This is because, on one hand, art education does teach students a variety of critical skills for academic success. On the other hand, art education can often inspire students to take a renewed interest in other subjects based on overlap and interdisciplinary connections. All in all, students with access to art education score higher on the SAT and other such standardized tests, most likely because of a combination of both factors.
Access to art education increases leadership skills like public speaking, creative problem solving, writing, and teamwork. All of these skills translate well into seeking out positions or opportunities like class office, or even the president of a club or captain of a team. Art education also has a positive impact on confidence writ large, although it’s harder to measure.
Perhaps unexpectedly, art education is great for boosting writing and reading skills. This is because art class often involves reading and interpretation, as students read about artists or art movements and consider pieces of art in the context of what they’ve just read. Art education also fosters critical thinking and persuasion skills, as students learn to form opinions on the meaning of works of art and learn to present and effectively express their opinions. All of these activities mean a boon for proficiency in writing, reading, composing an argument, speaking publicly, and critical interpretation.
Art and art education provide students a healthy outlet for anger, anxiety, or sadness. Students can pour their feelings into new creative work of their own, or see their own experiences mirrored in the art of others. Instead of feeling helpless or acting out because of mounting internal pressure, kids with access to art education can channel their emotions effectively into art. This cuts down the amount of disciplinary infractions that students accrue over their time in school.
Once you know how important art education is to a student’s future and academic success, it’s impossible to see it as simply “optional”. Art education needs to be more fully funded to combat entrenched educational inequities, and give all students the tools they need to succeed.
However, before any of that, we all need to learn to value art education more highly. Shifting the way that art education is perceived in society is critical to changing the way it’s funded and administered. Share these statistics with friends, families, and strangers, and do your part to make art education non-negotiable.
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Jer Wat (aka Jeremy) is a printmaker, illustrator, and video producer living and working in Winnipeg, Canada. His love of art goes...October 11, 2021
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