During National Arts in Education Week, the Department of Education had the privilege of hosting an opening of works by Scholastic Art & Writing Award winners for the 10th year in a row, and I had a front-row, center-stage seat. The young artists, along with their families, teachers, and Department staff packed the headquarters auditorium to honor the artistic achievements of some of our nation’s most talented middle and high school students.
Each year, the Department and the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH), in partnership with the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, which sponsors the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, jointly dedicate two exhibitions of more than 100 visual arts works from the current year’s 1,200 national awardees. The Department’s exhibit of more than 50 works graces the walls of our headquarters lobby year-round and is complemented by the display of a similar number of Scholastic works in the D.C. offices of PCAH. On hand for the opening were approximately 50 of this year’s young artists whose works are being exhibited.
For me, artistic expression reflects the canvas of life, and I believe that artists have the power to transform the world. Throughout history, we have witnessed transformative artistic expression and observed firsthand how an artist can spark a social or political movement, as evidenced by Pablo Picasso’s 1936 painting Guernica, which changed people’s thoughts about the Spanish Civil War. Similarly, the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s was an influential and historically creative period that redefined African-American culture. Harlem neighborhoods showcased a diverse collective of innovative artists and intellectuals. Artists produced jazz, visual art media, and satire that still resonate within American culture today.
Art continually changes and shapes our thinking and our world, and these young artists captured this essence by exploring themes that affect every aspect of our lives and challenge us to see things from a different perspective. I humbly reminded all of the students that their artistry is important. Rachel Goslins, the executive director of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, extended this message by urging the students to sustain their courage and to follow their passions and talent.
After the formal ceremony, I was further impressed when Christian Adam Gutierrez, a student from Hawaii who won a Scholastic Gold Medal in photography, approached me and shared his discontent with the opportunity gap he witnesses in his community. He is upset that his peers do not have the same opportunities that are available to him; we discussed creative strategies for how to solve the problem.
I was also inspired by Carlos Molina, a featured speaker at the opening who is a photography teacher at Abraham Lincoln High School in New York and a Scholastic Award alumnus. He described how, as a teacher, he helps students every day to develop their talent and find their voice. [Learn more about the exhibit opening’s speakers and the student artists]
Just like Adam and Carlos, all of us have a responsibility to trumpet the importance of the arts and how the integration of the arts into education serves as a vehicle for improving academic achievement and other important educational outcomes. This should be an easy message to convey, as research over the past decade reveals that effective arts education strategies yield practical and impressive results. For instance, Americans for the Arts notes that arts education:
- stimulates imagination and refines cognitive and creative skills;
- positively impacts the developmental growth of every child and has proven to help level the “learning field” across socio-economic boundaries;
- strengthens problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, adding to overall academic achievement and school success; and
- nurtures important values and attitudes such as collaboration, respect for alternative viewpoints, and awareness of and appreciation for different cultures and traditions.
Additionally, students in arts-rich schools — and most importantly, those from low socio-economic status backgrounds and English language learners — do better than students in schools without robust arts learning opportunities. Studies further find that arts-integrated instruction offers an alternative avenue for students to access information and succeed in English language arts and mathematics; arts integration may be more effective than traditional remedial programs, thus offering a resource in helping to close the achievement gap.
For more information on this topic, please see Preparing Students for the Next America: The Benefits of an Arts Education from the Arts Education Partnership.
Knowing these things made it all the more heartwarming and inspiring to witness the creative work of these talented students. I thank each of them for sharing their artistic gifts, creativity, and talent and for allowing me to connect to them in a way that was personal yet linked to a larger community of shared experience.
It was a great honor to represent the Department at this event, and I will carry the memories of it with me for years to come.
Monique M. Chism, Ph.D., is director of ED’s Student Achievement and School Accountability Programs.