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The Atrophy of the Arts

I wrote this essay as a final, choosing something important and close to home, something that has affected me personally. I would love to hear what the community thinks about this ongoing dilemma.

You enter the auditorium and find your seat. For the next 2 hours you enjoy a amazing performance, brilliant storytelling, magical musical numbers,  and the amazement that comes from watching people doing things that they love. When I was in high school, this was one of my favorite activities. Nothing made me happier than being on stage, performing my heart out, and whenever I couldn’t be up front, I’d be in the audience, cheering on my fellow Thespians from high schools all over the state. In my small town high school, the arts were not an important part of the curriculum. In fact, in my 4 years there I worked under 6 different instructors as heads of our program. There was nothing stable and it seemed like, despite the student's best efforts, the subject we adored could be canceled at any minute. As I traveled from high school to high school to see shows, I began to see and hear things that sounded very similar to our own struggles, and by the time I had graduated, I understood. This wasn't a small problem that only my school was dealing with, it was a large one that was sweeping the entire country.  I realized that the arts in schools must be saved and reinstated because they provide so much to our students and our society in general through the skills they teach and the benefit they bring to our global economy.

Everyone knows that the arts tend to come in second to other programs in schools throughout our education system, but just how bad is the decline? According to Valeriya Metla, a columnist for Law Street Media with a Bachelor's degree in regional studies,  “During the 1999-2000 school year, 20 percent of schools offered dance and theatre classes, but in the 2009-10 school year, only 3 percent of schools allocated funds for dance classes, and only 4 percent taught theatre ” (Metla). But what has caused this horrifying drop?  One primary reason is educational budget cuts.Since the recession of 2008, it is estimated that more than 80% of schools across the nation have experienced substantial cuts to their budget (Metla). Often schools are forced to pick and choose what subjects they want to support. With the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act and Common Core, there is a heavy pressure on schools to emphasis the importance of Core subjects such as mathematics, science and literature. As a result, many times arts programs are left to fend for themselves or shut down entirely.

Many people are unaware, however, that the Elementary and Secondary Education Act classified theatre as a Core subject, and in 2015 the Every Child Achieves Act expanded this to cover all arts programs (Senate Passes Every Child Achieves Act). This means that, by law, the arts are just as important in a student's education as math, reading and science. As the Arts Education Partnership states, “Learning in and through the arts develops the essential knowledge, skills, and creative capacities all students need to succeed in school, work, and life” (What School Leaders can do to Increase Arts Education).

According to a 2005 Harris Poll, ninety three percent of Americans said that the arts are vital to providing a well-rounded education for children (Artists in the Workforce). Despite this, many people view the arts as something that should, by reason, come secondary in education, and even to other elective programs such as DECA or Athletics. This view has proved a powerful force in the arts placement in school curriculum, as pointed out respected educational leader and college Professor Ken Robinson in his 2006 TED talk, Do Schools Kill Creativity?, saying:

“Every education system on Earth has the same hierarchy of subjects. Every one. Doesn't matter where you go. You'd think it would be otherwise, but it isn't. At the top are mathematics and languages, then the humanities, and at the bottom are the arts. Everywhere on Earth. And in pretty much every system too, there's a hierarchy within the arts. Art and music are normally given a higher status in schools than drama and dance. There isn't an education system on the planet that teaches dance everyday to children the way we teach them mathematics” (Do Schools Kill Creativity?)

All around the world, the arts are at the bottom rung of the course ladder. What does this show our students? As Elliot Eisner reflects in his book Ten Lessons the Arts Teach, “The art’s position in the school curriculum symbolizes to the young what adults believe is important” (Eisner 57), Asserting that as these children grow, the arts become nothing more than a extra in our society and to our children.

Even so, It has been well documented just how valuable artistic influence is on our students, both in personal and academic growth.  “First and foremost, art education improves the overall performance of students, including in the core academic subjects that are often emphasized by standardized testing requirements. Students who took four years of art classes scored ninety one points higher on their SAT exams than those who took half a year or less,” says Metla. In fact, students of the arts have been documented to consistently outperform their peers in this mother of all standardized tests. But it’s not only in testing where arts students seem to excel, as Metla explains,  “Multiple studies also confirmed that there is a correlation between art engagement and students’ other achievements. Students who regularly participated in art classes were four times more likely to be recognized for their achievements” (Metla). Mounting evidence shows that arts-poor schools are consistently out-performed by students in arts-rich learning environments (What School Leaders Can Do to Increase Arts Education).

This trend doesn't stop outside of education, as documented in Robert Root-Bernstein’s writing Sparks of Genius,  “There have been studies dating back a hundred years that document the connection between arts avocation and Nobel Prize winners in science. Arts involvement is a predictor of success in the sciences” (The Advocacy Game). It's even been documented that Nobel Prize winning scientists are a whopping twenty-five percent more likely to sing, dance, or act than their non-acclaimed counterparts, a correlation explained by Nobel Prize winning scientist Jacob Shaman, who said,  ”An equation is like a script- acting taught me how to read equations” (The Advocacy Game).

Many extraordinarily successful people accredit their success, at least in part, to the skills that they learned studying in the arts in their secondary education. But what skills could they have learned in the arts that would help them so much in later life? As said by the Lake Research Partners, “An education in the arts makes a major contribution to participating in a group or being a team player, learning to set goals and respecting multiple values and perspectives” (New Poll Reveals Stifling Imagination in Schools Underlies Innovation and Skills Deficit). Performing arts put people in the spotlight and teach them to work under pressure, so they are more equipped to rise in a challenging work environment. They show people that there often is more than one point of view to any issue or moment, as no two artists interpret the same thing in the exact same way. Eisner believes that “the arts teach children that problems can have more than one solution and that questions can have more than one answer” (Eisner). Theatre teaches communication, and people who communicate more effectively are far more likely to work well in large and small teams and have more potential as leaders in any activity. Dancers develop discipline as they do the same routine over and over, training their body as much as any other athlete. Painters have an expressive outlet and develop stress-coping skills. Filmographers learn patience as they repeat scenes dozens of times looking for that one perfect shot. But most of all, as Debra Garofalo, Principal Marine Park Junior High states, “School is the place where we prepare children for adulthood, and they need more than reading and math. The arts bring children together” (What School Leaders can do to Increase Arts Education).

The arts also encourage and promote creativity heavily in their students, where other subjects may harm or even slaughter it, as Robinson discusses, saying, “Picasso once said this, he said that all children are born artists. The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up. I believe this passionately, that we don't grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Or rather, we get educated out if it” (Do Schools Kill Creativity?). According to the Arts Education Partnership, “Honoring students’ artistic and creative talents and achievements provides an opportunity to show what students know and can do”  (What School Leaders can do to Increase Arts Education).  The arts provide growing children a place in schools where they are able to experiment and express themselves, while feeling safe and comfortable doing so. William Stellbrink, a student at Lebanon High School said, “So many things nowadays have strict, set down rules that must be followed, and while that's not necessarily bad thing, kids need a place where they can show their creative aspect and not be constrained by guidelines that don't apply to everyone” (Stellbrink). Often, that's what the arts are for students, especially in high school as students test their opinions in beliefs.  “The study of drama, dance, music, and the visual arts helps students explore realities, relationships, and ideas that cannot be conveyed simply in words or numbers.” said Secretary Arne Duncan in the introduction of the Reinvesting in Arts Education, the 2011 President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities report (The Advocacy Game).

As it is said in the introduction to What School Leaders Can Do to Increase Arts Education, “Where the Arts are an integral component of the school day, they positively impact student attendance, persistence, and engagement: enhance teacher effectiveness: and strengthen parent and community involvement” (What School Leaders Can Do to Increase Arts Education). The arts not only affect the student's health and well-being, but that of their entire school and community. Often times students who are heavily involved with the arts begin community projects, such as town art galleries, community theatre productions, or music festivals. In turn, the communities often begin to volunteer and support the art programs, creating a symbiotic relationship that greatly can help both areas.

Even the national workforce is being affected by this growing trend, according to the 2010 Conference Board report, Ready to Innovate, ninety five percent of executives felt the most valuable skill that new workers should possess is creativity, and a incomprehensible eighty three percent said they had extreme difficulty finding workers that have that skill (Ready to Innovate). In fact, research suggests that involvement in the arts can affect the world on the global and national scale. “Our future as an innovative country depends on ensuring that everyone has access to the arts and to cultural opportunity….But the intersection of creativity and commerce is more than economic stimulus, it's about who we are as a people.” says First Lady Michelle Obama (The Advocacy Game). The 2007 poll The Imagination Nation, found that nine in ten of the one thousand people polled said that healthy imaginations in young people contribute significantly to a nation’s ability to compete in the global economy, with eighty eight percent expressing the view that arts education is an essential component toward developing that imagination (New Poll Reveals Stifling Imagination in Schools Underlies Innovation and Skills Deficit). But what of those who stick with their art form through school into adulthood? While stereotypical belief would lead you to think that most artists are hard pressed to survive with their work, The 2008 National Endowment for the Arts study, Artists in the Workforce, showed that individuals involved in the arts account for $70 billion aggregate annual income. The study said that one point four percent of the United States labor force are employed as artists (Artists In The Workforce) . In order to put this into perspective, this is only slightly less than the total number of active-duty and reserve personnel in the United States military.

According to a Lake Research Partners poll, Sixty-nine percent of American voters believe that America devotes less attention to developing the imagination and innovation than other countries around the world, as pointed out by John Wilson, Executive Director of the National Education Association, who said

"Americans are concerned that we are falling behind as a nation and that imagination, innovation and creativity have been the foundation that moved the United States into a world leadership role...In today’s economy, an education focused only on the 'so-called' basics may not be providing students with the skills essential for success and continued world leadership in the 21st century” (New Poll Reveals Stifling Imagination in Schools Underlies Innovation and Skills Deficit).

It seems as if the United States government has realized our plight, as they have created the National Endowment of the Arts (the NEA), a governmental organization devoted exclusively to recording, honoring, and promoting the arts all over our country. The National Endowment of the Arts run their powerful position with an even more powerful slogan: Art Works. Many people see this as only black and white, arts works, the created pieces of art that our nation is proud of. However, this slogan pushes us to realize the facts that are all around us. Art works. Academically, personally, productively, and nationally, Art influences almost every aspect of our culture in some way.

The Arts have a massive effect on our economy. They assist in keeping  the United States competitive by nurturing the creativity and innovation of students all over the country, who get to explore and test theories in a safe environment. The arts teach students skills that assist them in becoming functioning members of our society in the local, national and global level and have been credited for teaching some of our most renowned scientists the abilities they needed to persist in unlocking the secrets of our world. Yet, for some reason they remain underfunded, unappreciated by the majority, much talked about but never assisted. Without the arts, I would never have made it as far as I have, and I know the same can be said for many students of the discipline. It is high time that we as a society stand up and remember the blocks our world has been built on, and begin putting real effort into their cultivation. It will be well worth the price, because the National Endowment for the Arts has it right. Art. Works.


Works Cited


"What School Leaders Can Do to Increase Arts Education." Arts Education Partnership. The Arts Education Partnership, n.d. Web. 10 Jan. 2016. <http://www.aep-arts.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/What-School-Leaders-Can-Do-To-Increase-the-Arts.pdf>.

"Ready To Innovate." The Conference Board. The Conference Board, Oct. 2008. Web. 11 Jan. 2016.

"The Advocacy Game." Educational Theatre Association. Educational Theatre Association, n.d. Web. 10 Jan. 2016. <https://www.schooltheatre.org/HigherLogic/System/DownloadDocumentFile.ashx?DocumentFileKey=fa161f49-4411-4be6-a84f-ddf50677ad32>.

Eisner, Elliot. "10 Lessons the Arts Teach." National Art Education Association. National Arts Education Association, n.d. Web. 13 Jan. 2016.

Metla, Valeriya. "School Art Programs: Should They Be Saved?" Law Street. Law Street, 14 May 2014. Web. 12 Jan. 2016

"Senate Passes Every Child Achieves Act, with Music and Arts as Core Subjects, Intact." NAFME. National Association for Music Education, 16 July 2015. Web. 17 Jan. 2016.

"New Poll Reveals Stifling Imagination in Schools Underlies Innovation and Skills Deficit." National Association of Music Merchants. National Association of Music Merchants, 24 Jan. 2008. Web. 10 Jan. 2016.

"Artists In the Workforce." National Endowment for the Arts. National Endowment for the Arts, 2005. Web. 16 Jan. 2016.

Do Schools Kill Creativity. Perf. Sir Ken Robinson. Ted.com. Ted, Feb. 2006. Web. 11 Jan. 2016.

Stellbrink, William M. "The Arts Effects." Online interview. 3 Mar. 2016.


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