As artists and arts educators, we are keenly aware of what it feels like to be under siege. Our arts programs are interwoven into the fabric of our communities, and even in the face of challenges continue to thrive. We can’t imagine our communities without our arts programs, and thus we have become masters at articulating their profound reach. It’s ingrained in our role as arts educators to fight for the importance, continued relevance, and impact of what we do.
Throughout this recurring battle, I’ve found strength and empowerment in the resolve of my fellow arts leaders and the community of activists of which we are a part. What makes me particularly proud is seeing the inherent drive that emerges in my students when they’re tasked with defending the powerful influence of the arts in their lives. Their drive reminds me that we don’t come to the arts looking for a cause for which to advocate, but rather the arts bring out an irrepressible passion in each of us.
As a nation, we are facing profound threats to funding for the arts, and as the principal of a state operated arts school in Minnesota, my community has been particularly impacted. We are immersed in a battle against significant budgetary cuts and potential closure. The prospect is daunting, in particular from the front lines. However, we continue to flourish in spite of these challenges. I’m reminded daily by my students, faculty, alumni, and parents of how we are not new to this fight, nor afraid of the fight; we are made for it. I believe arts communities have the ability to thrive during challenging times as long as they stay focused on the following priorities:
- Producing and engaging in quality art making. In the midst of a bill being introduced to close our school, I’ve seen students and faculty emerge laser focused on art making. They’ve produced over 104 school-wide productions, garnered 97 statewide and 3 national recognitions, and organized a community wide conference on equity. Are they cognizant of the challenges? Of course. Do they allow that to impact their productivity? Never. They continue to invest in their work as their legislative representatives argue over the continued relevancy and importance of their school.
- Organizing, volunteering, and supporting the community. A recent report on the creative economy in Minnesota articulated that in Minnesota, 88% of artists volunteer in their communities (as compared to 25% nationwide). We’ve seen this volunteerism in action as members of the Perpich foundation board, alumni, and the parent council have mobilized on behalf of Perpich. They’ve raised thousands of dollars to support school visibility, admissions, and scholarships in a matter of weeks, sent over 2,000 letters to their legislative representatives, testified at hearings, and planned community events. The Perpich community has come together in the face of adversity, and that impact is striking.
- Know thy Self. As artists and educators, we know the worth of our programs and the impact they have on our students and community. We don’t allow scrutiny to challenge or change that notion. We know who we are and where we stand. We take political and financial attacks seriously, and in the wake of these attacks we band together, demonstrate our worth, and, in the end, prevail. Even in troubling times when our ability to do our work wanes because of funding decisions made on our behalf, we don’t forget our value. We continue to gear up for the struggle because it matters; our place in society matters; and our students and communities matter.
In moments when the fight feels insurmountable or the battle long, a relentless focus emerges. If the ones who have everything to lose—our students (current, future, and past), faculty, parents, and community supporters—have the energy and enthusiasm to say “not today, not on my watch,” then, as a leader, that’s all I need. I will continue to know in my heart that the impact of arts education needs no explanation while simultaneously advocating, unapologetically, that what we do is invaluable. As long as we stay focused as a community (and a nation), we’re going to continue to thrive. We are built for this.