Watching the news each day, I witness the challenges facing communities across the nation—whether the devastating hurricanes of this month, or events like the terrorist attacks on America 16 years ago today. With back-to-school time upon us, I urge all citizens to think about how we are preparing our young people to tackle challenges—not only in school, but in their lives.

This week, I and thousands of arts organizations and communities across the nation will celebrate the transformative power of the arts in education during National Arts in Education Week, from September 10-16. Passed by Congress in 2010, House Resolution 275 designates the week to be a celebration intended to bring attention to the cause of arts education for elected officials and educational decision-makers across the country, and to support equitable access to the arts for all students. Last year, more than 250 official celebrations happened around the country and tens of thousands of people shared their stories on social media using #BecauseOfArtsEd.

Two such events are happening this week in Portland, Oregon, and Huntsville, Alabama. The Regional Arts and Culture Council in Portland will be hosting events in celebration of arts education: one with elected officials from around Oregon and the other celebrating the accomplishments of youth fashion designers. Arts Huntsville is bringing together people from the STEM and arts communities to drive the conversation around STEAM education (science, technology, engineering, the ARTS, and math) in northern Alabama with an arts event at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.

I wrote last year that we are in a new chapter for arts education in America as a result of the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015. The dozen arts-friendly provisions in the law provide the opportunity for all students to succeed using the arts in new ways. During this week of celebration, advocates in every state are working to secure equity in access to arts education and articulate the role of the arts as a pathway to academic success, specifically in the education of students of color, students in rural communities, students who are classified as low-socioeconomic status English Language Learners, or those who require special education. Former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has stated, “This is absolutely an equity issue and a civil rights issue.” We recognize this issue. We stand against the barriers that cause this issue. And we are working to overcome this issue.

The research speaks for itself and shows the positive connections between arts education and student success: whether that manifests as increased SAT scores, better attendance, or lower dropout rates. In a report released in 2012, 79 percent of teachers agreed that the arts had “totally changed their teaching” and 94 percent of teachers agreed that they had gained “additional ways of teaching critical thinking skills.” Additionally, programs like Turnaround Arts or schools in districts that embrace the use of Title I funds for arts interventions overhaul their school climates and become increasingly positive places for student learning. It’s clear that students, teachers, and school communities benefit from being enveloped by the arts.

We also know from a decades-long study that students who participate in the arts during their middle school years are more likely to be civically engaged than their peers who did not have arts education; meaning, they are more likely to vote, more likely to volunteer in their community, and more likely to sit on the board of a nonprofit organization as an adult. This research was conducted by the late James Catterall, to whom we dedicate this year’s National Arts in Education Week.

So, as the children in your community go back to school, I encourage you to think about what their future will hold. How can we make sure they are equipped to deal with the pressing issues we face today? I’d like to think we can do it creatively—through an arts-based education. We have the policy to do it, and we have the research to back it up. Let’s celebrate these wins and move forward to continue the advocacy necessary to realize the vision of a better America through the arts. 

This blog also was posted on The Huffington Post.