“Michelangelo’s David, William’s The Glass Menagerie, Puccini’s La Boheme, Ailey’s Revelations, and Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, or any other great works of art, all have one thing in common – they represent mankind’s inherent need to express our humanity through the arts.” Thus begins a preface letter by Dr. Stephen J. McCarthy, K-12 Arts Coordinator for LA Unified in a 44-page document that was released Thursday, entitled The Arts Education and Creative Cultural Network Plan, which carves out a plan for the next five years to support arts education in the public schools of Los Angeles.
While this plan is not a guarantee for an art, music, dance and theater teacher in every school, it is clearly a commitment by the district to bolster the idea of the necessity for arts in schools and also to integrate the use of artistic principles in all curriculum areas. The plan cites several studies that have found what many in the arts education sector have been touting for years … that students who are exposed to the arts in school are: more likely to show up for class; more prepared for the workforce; more socially adept; work better in group situations and overall, have higher test scores and graduation rates. The plan clearly also relies on the support of outside sources and organizations. The CREATE CA (Core Reforms Engaging Arts To Educate) is a movement by a coalition of nonprofits and government agencies to restore arts education in the state, and they have been working on a blueprint that will “influence many state level arts education policies.”
I spoke with Dan Chang who is the Executive Director of The Los Angeles Fund for Public Education who seemed hopeful that these steps being taken by the district will bring about positive results. The LA Fund’s primary goal is to invest in high impact programs that support LA Unified schools and raise awareness about the vital role of “teaching creativity.” The LA Fund has launched a program called Arts Matter and has raised over $750,000 to make sure they do just that.
But Dan made it clear that the arts have been devastated in the past several years by budget cuts and education policies that were not conducive to support arts educators either inside or outside the classroom and that the best solution will come in the form of a multi-pronged effort. “It’s the old three-legged stool approach. We need to support the hiring of actual hands-on art, music, dance and theater teachers; we need to encourage “core teachers” to integrate arts principals in their own academic courses and we need to leverage external resources to bring deeper and richer experiences for students – whether bringing students to outside venues or bringing groups from those external venues into the schools.”
There is a song in Stephen Sondheim’s musical Sunday in the Park with George with the lyric, “that is the state of the art my friend.” Looking over the commitment by the Los Angeles Unified School District, (which by the way is the second largest school district in the country behind New York City according to Wikipedia) the state of the art seems to be moving in a much more positive direction.