January 25, 2017

Robust public school arts programs "the rare exception"

Hi there, 

I spent a good part of this morning recording my first Arts Hall podcast with artist and RISD professor Clara Lieu, she's created a website called Art Prof: Visual Art Essentials where anybody--kid, adult, experienced, inexperienced--can get the basics of a classical arts education, for free, by watching video tutorials and critiques by real artists. What I find so absorbing about the site is that she hasn't just thrown together how to draw--the site really puts drawing in a larger context of how to see, how to think, and even how to buy materials as an artist.

I was thrilled to have her as my first guest (and this podcast will launch, along with the other Arts Hall shows, sometime in February. More details soon!). In addition to getting the details on how the site works, though, Clara and I had a chance to talk about arts education in schools more generally. I asked her if arts programs were really no longer present in most of our schools--thinking that she would say, yeah, that's a bit of an exaggeration. But instead, she said this:  

“I think [not having an arts program] is the norm-- if you have a robust arts program at a public school, that is the rare exception. Which is tragic. The problem with arts education is, people see it as dispensable. But I think we need it.”  

This gave me the chills--and made me wonder, yes we all take for granted that many schools don't have much of an arts hall, but what exactly is keeping the majority of public schools from having a robust arts program? This is one of the over-arching questions that drives me to write this letter--I hope you'll join me in taking a look at all sides: the money needed for the teachers and supplies, the time and space needed for arts programs in an already-packed academic day, the innovators who are bringing arts to kids despite the odds, and maybe most importantly, what is driving the attitude that the arts are not essential to education? I would guess it's not coming from the educators themselves; I've spoken with too many who are trying to squeeze even ten minutes of art into an elementary-school day. So then, where is it coming from? We will dig into that right here. So hang with me in the coming weeks as I explore this topic.

Speaking of exploring, the The Arts Hall podcast is coming next month. My guests are going to blow you away: we're going to have Cheap Trick bassist Tom Petersson and his wife Alison on for Autism Awareness Month, a middle school choir that sings as one voice, the improv comedians who helped train some of your favorite comedy stars, science journalist Steve Ornes on making math poetry (yes, that's really a thing), and a lot more. 

**I'm also on the lookout for teachers who are making a difference in the arts at their school--that's music, theater, literature, dance, and visual art--so if you or someone you know has a killer program or an idea, please email me. 

Thank you for bearing with me as I experiment with what this letter is going to be. I think I'm getting closer, and if that question--What is keeping schools from a robust arts program?--isn't an essential question, then I don't know what is. 

Lastly, I'd love to hear if you have a favorite podcast on the arts or arts education. I am addicted to the Kennedy Center ArtsEdge podcast (I love the musical theater ones geared to middle- and high-school students), but I'm looking for more great ones, so hit reply and tell me what you think! 


ps. Don't forget you can follow me on Twitter or Facebook, and I'd love you forever if you shared this with an arts-ed loving friend.