Arts Education and Advocacy: An Investment in Every Child’s Future

Pablo Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” April 9th was Arts Advocacy Day here in Washington, D.C., and thousands of advocates from across the country came to rally in support of arts education programs in our schools, pre-K through high school, that will solve the problem Picasso described.

The arts are an integral part of a well-rounded education, and a recent school survey by the Department revealed that millions of American students, particularly in high-need schools, have either minimal or no access to instruction in the arts. To miss out on arts learning opportunities is to miss out on gaining the very skills and habits of mind we know are essential to succeeding in life and earning a livelihood in the 21st century: creativity; observing as opposed to simply seeing; identifying as well as solving problems; thinking outside the box; and communicating with not just words but with images, sounds, and motion — these and more are inherently part of a regularly scheduled, quality arts education program.

Student Performers

Members of the Thelonious Monk Institute National Arts Performing High School Program, (l. to r.) Sterlin Brown, Joseph Quiles, and Sabrina Dias, perform for ED staff and guests in the ED headquarters.

Each Arts Advocacy Day is preceded by the Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy, and this year’s lecturer, world-renown cellist and member of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH) Yo-Yo Ma, focused on the need for arts education in his “Art for Life’s Sake” lecture before a capacity audience at the Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall. Clearly, Yo-Yo Ma has lived out Picasso’s hope of remaining an artist, but just as important is his unflagging commitment to making that hope a reality for America’s young people through his work with PCAH’s Turnaround Arts initiative (a collaborative effort with ED), the Silk Road Project, and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

In thousands of communities represented by arts advocates here last week, school boards are facing the same budget concerns and school leaders are facing the same tough decisions they were four years ago. But investing in arts education is a smart, pay-forward investment in every child’s education and future.  It’s among the “smart ideas” I’ve advocated before, and now is an excellent time to reiterate it.

And because it’s also a smart idea to invest in ideas and strategies for school improvement that are based on research, the Arts Education Partnership, which is supported by ED and the National Endowment for the Arts, last year launched ArtsEdSearch, an online clearinghouse for high-quality research on arts education. The first of its kind, ArtsEdSearch contains a growing number of valid research studies on the impact of arts education on students’ cognitive, emotional, and social development; on professional development outcomes for arts educators and teaching artists; and on academic achievement and other outcomes associated with arts learning in school- and community-based programs.

ArtsEdge is another source of smart ideas for arts education. Its free digital resources include lesson plans, audio stories, video clips, and interactive online modules. With support from OII’s National Arts in Education Program, the Kennedy Center’s Education Department makes these quality resources — many of which are from the Center’s own educational performances and professional development programs — available to thousands of schools and community arts partners nationwide.

Arts Advocacy Day 2013 is behind us, but we hope we will use it to renew a commitment nationwide to make our children whole through the arts and to get on to the important work still to be done to make the arts an essential part of every child’s education. We shouldn’t accept anything less.

Doug Herbert is a special assistant in the Office of Innovation and Improvement and works on issues of national arts education policy and practice.


    • Hi, I have a child in need of a scholarship for Art at the college level. Any update on the scholarship. Thanks

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