Advancing Diversity by Empowering the Arts in Our Nation’s Education Decision-making

Posted by Mr. Robert Lynch, Sep 10, 2018

As young people around the country return to school, educators take the helm of their classrooms, and educational leaders build learning communities that inspire creative and innovative teaching and learning, the arts education community along with public and private sector leaders join together once again to celebrate National Arts in Education Week. In 2018, we have plenty of reasons to celebrate!

Almost three years ago, in December 2015, Americans across the country applauded our leaders in Congress and the White House for finally reforming our federal education policy and bringing forth the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). I was pleased to attend this bill signing and am still inspired by the powerful and positive role that the arts will play—because of this legislation—in this new chapter of education policy in America. This bill brought into code the popular opinion of Americans that the arts are a central part of a well-rounded education for all learners; especially for those students who traditionally don’t have access to arts education because of their race, socio-economic status, or zip code.

For decades, research has shown the transformative power of arts learning in schools and communities, and its benefits for all young people are clear. When learning in and through the arts, young people succeed in school, in work, and in life. However, decades-long longitudinal studies indicate that access to arts learning opportunities is not equitable, primarily for specific populations like young people of color, students with disabilities, those who are classified as students with low socioeconomic status, or those living in rural communities.

The fact is that the same research reveals that for those marginalized groups of young people, the benefits of learning in and through the arts outpace that of their more advantaged peers. So, how can we as an arts education community—particularly during the national celebration of arts education—improve equity in access to the arts and ultimately close the opportunity gap? We at Americans for the Arts believe that action is needed and advocacy toward cultural equity, cultural diversity, and inclusion is essential to achieve justice for all.

Like ESSAs arts-friendly provisions, it is also important for us to understand that there is new capacity for leadership at the state and local level. This law also decentralized educational decision-making, shifting much of the power to states and local education leaders. As this school year begins, local school districts and state education leaders have more resources and policies under their supervision than ever before. Our job is to encourage, enable, and empower advocates to get to the negotiating table to strengthen arts education! They need to hear from us.

Starting this week, we should get arts education leaders at every table for every decision impacting education and certainly arts education from here on out! And we need to put a special advocacy focus toward those student populations, described above, that are failing to receive an arts education.

This Arts in Education Week, Americans for the Arts will be celebrating in an expanded and powerful way: we are reaffirming our commitment to empowering diverse leadership across the arts education field, in every state and every community from coast to coast.

Studies have shown that to truly move the educational system to become more equitable, we must have a diversity of voices at the table. It is our belief that we must work toward systemic goals of diversity, equity, and inclusion, to ensure that decision-makers not only reflect the youth population which they are serving, but also implement educational opportunities, seek funding, and invent new models that work toward strong and equitable policies.

Will you join us?

You can learn more about this work by exploring Americans for the Arts’ new toolkit on Emerging Arts Education Leadership, visiting ARTSblog and reading about how arts leaders are seeking to broaden and diversify the leadership pipeline for arts education, and viewing our series of webinars and participating in #ArtsEdChat each night this week. Register for it all here.

As we celebrate the congressionally designated National Arts in Education Week, we also need to always take stock of where we are as a field, celebrate our accomplishments, and remember that there is more work to do—so, let’s get to work.