Creating the New Face of Arts Education

When I was a kid growing up in the parochial schools of Rochester, NY, we had music and art classes several times a week. They were a mandatory part of the curriculum. You were also encouraged to join whatever music ensembles that existed and expected to play at several school concerts per year.  Sometimes there were more students in the concerts than were in the audience. We received a great foundation in music without traveling to lessons and without extra lesson or instrument rental fees or auditions for private music education. When I got to high school, I just took it for granted that all high schools had their fair share of extremely talented young singers and musicians and the means to cultivate that talent.

I  guess I never realized how fortunate we were to have that kind of education available right where we were in school. I cannot believe how much this has changed now. When I worked in higher education, I watched my music work-study students struggle to find student teacher placements in the local school system. The same for student art teachers. My friends’ kids now get their arts education primarily outside school from private teachers. But what about those kids who do not have the resources: money or access to teachers? It disturbs me to know that there is young arts talent out there who will not have the same great experiences we had.

I can go on about how studying music and arts benefits everyone, not just kids. However, you can do an Internet search and read up on that for yourself. Yet, as people bemoan the loss of arts education in our schools and the lack of funding for arts programming, the need for arts education is still very real. If funding for arts education is not returned to public school systems, then we need to find a way to reframe this problem to come up with viable solutions.

In addition, the old school model of higher arts education which emphasized education and arduous practice to make it to the top has not produced a plethora of graduates who have enjoyed better career satisfaction over the years. A large number of music graduates go on to a career in something else. Music and arts schools are still turning out graduates who may be skilled at music and arts, but little else, making it hard to make a living. Those schools who are offering business and entrepreneurship classes should be thinking of ways to fill that educational gap created by the slashing of arts education from the curriculum. It would fill a need for school kids and provides jobs for their graduates.

One general solution is promoting portfolio careers for new graduates where they do some performing, some educating, some entrepreneurial programming, etc. My experience is that these graduates are chockfull of ideas, and their proficiency with computers and the Internet can only help. Teaching lessons online or through community schools of music and arts, albeit not new ideas, are some ways to keep arts education going and graduates employed. However, there must be other ways to provide arts education to those people who can’t afford private instruction on their own.

Enter big corporations. I was in a local toy store over the holidays where they did free demonstrations with their musical instruments and arts and crafts kits. Obviously, it was shilling at its finest, designed to get the kids’ parents to spend money. However, every kid who stopped by to participate in the demonstrations learned something, regardless of whether their parents bought anything or not. These demonstrations also brought people together to share ideas, different ways to create Rainbow Loom bracelets or how to record rhythms on a synthesizer, for instance.

Maybe these corporations have hit on a way to sell while educating. However it happens, we need an approach, grassroots or corporate, to bring together the students who need arts education with those who are newly educated and beyond who can provide it.

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