July 19, 2013

Without art, civilization dies. The arts are the fiber of humanity, uniting us together. Arts encourage growth in education and creates an environment for students to thrive and excel. Newark is among America’s cities to boast a rich arts culture; with the historic Newark Symphony Hall, the world-renowned Newark Museum, enigmatic New Jersey Performing Arts Center, numerous galleries and arts spaces as well as two prestigious art-focused schools (Newark Boys Chorus School and Arts High School). The Newark Arts Council has been working for many years to engage residents in arts and cultures in a variety of ways and continues to support and develop new artists. However, even among our plethora of arts and culture, arts education is still at risk.

Budget cuts threaten schools all over the country and arts education hangs on by a thread in many schools. No Child Left Behind Act continues to challenge the inclusion of arts education as part of a core curriculum. “By recognizing the arts as cognitive, the field of education is starting to acknowledge the academic value and potential of arts instruction,” says Amy Duma, director of the Kennedy Center’s Changing Education Through the Arts (CETA), in a recent article on the National Education Association’s website (http://www.nea.org/home/10630.htm).

In 1997, VH1 created Save The Music Foundation to raise awareness to the plight of music education and provide support to increase instrumental music education in America’s schools. More than fifteen years later, arts education is still in need of advocacy and financial support. The POTUS and FLOTUS continue to have a major commitment to arts education in our country. The President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities has created the Turnaround Arts initiative, to use the arts as means to close the achievement gap. As a result of the study, Reinvesting in Arts Education: Winning America’s Future through Creative Schools (http://www.pcah.gov/sites/default/files/PCAH_Reinvesting_4web_0.pdf), this initiative is a public-private partnership to increase student engagement through the arts through a comprehensive and integrated arts education (http://turnaroundarts.pcah.gov/overview/).

Without the arts, civilization dies. The S.T.E.M. movement, encouraging and advocating for education and careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, is swiftly changing to S.T.E.A.M. to incorporate arts and innovation. Without creativity there is no advancement in technology, science or business. Ever heard of Steve Jobs and Apple? The issue is more than the funding for arts education, it is what access and equity do school systems like Newark have? According to Arts Ed Search, a clearinghouse that collects and summarizes high quality research studies on the impacts of arts education, “Studies finds that arts education engages students who are often underserved in public schools—including students from low socio-economic status (SES) backgrounds, English language learners, and students with special needs—and that these students do better in arts-rich schools than in schools that do not have robust arts programs. These students also show the greatest relative improvement in academic achievement when participating in the arts, though they are least likely to have access to arts learning.” ( http://www.artsedsearch.org/students/policy-implications#equity).

Here in Newark, organizations like the Newark Arts Council (NAC) is using community activism and civic engagement to provide resources and develop arts education programs in Newark by partnering with local businesses like Yendor Productions. Yendor Productions provides innovative and relevant arts-focused educational programs. Rodney Gilbert LN’12, founder and CEO of Yendor Productions, has recently partnered with the NAC and the Newark Public School System in offering a theatrical drama course for high school seniors where they earn 4 college-degree credits through Drew University. “The current trend of arts education has shifted drastically over the last 15 years”, says Gilbert. He continues “The arts have to prove that they can have an academic impact on either math or language of its participants. It use to be that art was it important because we all should be exposed to it to become a well rounded human being. It unfortunate that in America we don’t realize the importance of being in touch with your creativity as a person holds just as much value if not more than work. The arts are imperative for low SES population for a number of reasons some which I mentioned above. In addition economics play a major role for the population not having the opportunity to afford a variety of choices of a specific art form or forms. The importance of being able to creatively express ones self is key. All children don’t learn the same and the arts play a major role disciplining youth which helps with the achievement gap.”

So what can you do? Two ways YOU can impact arts education right here in Newark are checking out the Newark Arts Council’s Newark Arts Education Leadership Council (http://newarkarts.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/NAER-Registration-Form1.pdf), which is currently seeking applications. The council acts as the governance team for the Newark Arts Education Roundtable, which connects private and public organizations for the benefit of arts education in the city. In addition, Newark will host several summer arts programs (http://newarkarts.org/naer-naelc/newark-2013-summer-arts-education-programs/) for Summer 2013.

At the upcoming Leadership Newark Summit, we will have focus on public policies around critical issues such as education of our youth. Stay updated on the Leadership Newark Public Policy Summit by joining our email list. Go to www.leadershipnewark.org and sign up. We will continue to announce new developments on our Facebook (leadershipnewark) and Twitter (@leadershipnwk) over the coming months.