Arts Education Isn’t an “Extra” Curricular

By Marcela Garcia, Assoc. Director of Governance & Board Leadership

Imagination is one of the most powerful elements we can possess. Whether it is applied to the way we envision initiatives, the way we communicate — the arrangement of words, the organization of sounds — or the way we interact with the intentional creation of “the new.” In a time when resources are limited, innovation and creativity are required in all sectors, nonprofit and for-profit alike.

As someone who has been a part of visual and performing arts programs since grade-school, I have lived through the transformational experiences that these school clubs, art classes, or neighborhood art centers can offer children—especially during a critical time of identity formation. Interpreting the world around us provides the platform for reflexivity (reflection upon what is happening in terms of one’s own values and interests), which enhances critical thinking skills, cognitive ability, and verbal skills. It has also been noted that motivation, concentration, confidence, and teamwork are also enriched through involvement in the arts.

St. Joan Antida Student in Art Class

However, there is a problem. The arts education landscape across the United States has been in steady decline since the 1970’s. With decreasing school budgets and an added focus on state mandated testing, arts programs are not viewed as essential and the options for delivering art programs have become restricted.

In April of this year, the Herzfeld Foundation commissioned the Public Policy Forum to conduct exploratory research on how public and private resources are uniting to create systems that grow arts education and its delivery. The disproportion of arts accessibility is real, and this accessibility very much depends on the school a child attends, the neighborhood in which he/she lives and his/her family’s socio-economic status. These facts are very troubling to me and should be for our entire community.

As a practicing written and visual arts artist, I am an arts advocate who is interested in the structure, governance, and accountability of organizations that are developing solutions to this dilemma. I recently accepted a Mayoral appointment to the Milwaukee Arts Board, and currently serve on the board of Artist Working in Education. These opportunities have given me an insider’s look into the challenges and opportunities for collaborations between business and civic leaders, schools, arts organizations, artists, funders, and parents.

PAVE has coordinated long-term partnerships with community and arts organizations such as First Stage and the Milwaukee Art Museum. As a liaison that facilitates learning and enrichment offerings for interested Partner Schools, PAVE has seen remarkable programs within these collaborations. Take Lutheran Specials School & Education Services (LSSES) as an example.

In partnership with WE Energies and the Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM), we distributed funds that supported LSSES’ visionary leadership, which developed a unique experiential multi-sensory curriculum (MOSAICS) that would open new methods for engaging children who have difficulty learning through traditional methods. Over a three-year period, LSSES incorporated kinesthetic arts (movement), visual arts, and performing arts (theatrical and musical) into the core curriculum. As the program has unfolded, students have received the opportunity to serve as “docents,” unveil their artwork to the community, and to engage in visual storytelling—check out Awesome Kids; Awesome Art 2 and watch their digital stories!

Lutheran Special School Arts Program

It is in the interest of society that we enhance the quality, the availability, and access to arts education in Milwaukee through innovative and collaborative approaches. As Albert Einstein said, “Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere.” It is time that we let our imaginations roam if we expect to get improved results for the children of Milwaukee.

How has your involvement in the arts impacted your education and/or career? Have you seen the arts positively influence a child? Please share your stories in the comments section below.

(P.S. The PAVE Team spent two days last week attending the BoardSource Leadership Forum. We’re compiling our notes and will be bringing you some awesome content on the blog over the next few weeks.)