Published Thursday, November 7, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 3:30 pm
Midlands Voices: Arts education plays important role

Budig, a McCook, Neb., native, is a past president of three major universities (Illinois State University, West Virginia University and the University of Kansas). Heaps is a former vice president at the College Board in New York City.

This year marks the 100-year anniversary of one of the seminal events in American culture.

The 1913 Armory Show is credited with introducing this country to modern art. Until that time, American sensibilities were grounded in realism. But all that changed when, in one fell swoop, we were introduced to the works of such varied artists as Cézanne, Duchamp, Gauguin, Picasso, Matisse, Monet and Van Gogh.

The reactions from the press, the public and the art community were sensational. Some loved the new works. Some called the art “insane.” Others were shocked, leading to “accusations of quackery, insanity, immorality and anarchy.”

But art’s influence was profound, forever changing our perception of beauty. In describing the show’s impact, one prominent modern curator has said that it “marks a re-ordering of the rules of art-making — it’s as big as we’ve seen since the Renaissance.”

While it is hard to imagine an art show generating that kind of attention in today’s America, it would be a mistake to think that the potential impact of the arts has diminished. In fact, the opposite is true.

With the accessibility provided by technology, in today’s world the arts can play an even larger role in generating creativity, providing information, inspiring action and establishing the common cultural bonds that hold us together.

Unfortunately, that potential is in serious jeopardy. Why? Because our schools have all but abandoned the arts.

A few facts bear this out:

>> Forty-three percent of secondary schools do not require any art courses as a requirement for graduation. An additional 40 percent require just one art course.

>> Fifty-one percent of 18-year-olds reported having had no arts education before their 18th birthday, a sharp increase from 1982 when 35 percent reported having had no arts education.

The availability of arts courses is related to income, race and parental education. For example, white 18- to 24-year-olds have a 58 percent participation rate in art courses, with 28 percent for Hispanics and 26 percent for African-Americans.

>> Seventy-eight percent of superintendents and principals say that arts education receives a lower priority than it should.

>> Sixty-eight percent of parents believe that the cuts in the arts in favor of reading and math have had negative effects.

But this is a time of change in American education. The tide is turning from the flawed reasoning that reduced art courses. As educational reformers analyze and look for solutions to the problems of low academic performance and the achievement gap, the importance of the arts is being re-examined.

What are the reformers finding? That the arts can be used as a powerful tool to engage students in learning and promoting high achievement; accommodate different leaning styles; foster creativity and group projects; develop language and non-verbal communications skills; and teach the effective and efficient use of technology.

The efforts to re-integrate the arts in our schools have gone beyond talk. Educators and policy-makers are banding together to create new pre-K-through-12th grade standards in dance, media arts, music, theater and visual arts. If these standards can be implemented, monitored and measured, then the progress they engender will ensure their survival.

These reformers understand that the arts are not in competition with other subjects. Real academic achievement — the kind that supports personal, professional and civic engagement — is derived from multiple disciplines, each contributing in its own way to learning 21st-century skills such as critical thinking, communication and creativity.

We can only hope that. a hundred years from now, students will learn about the remarkable Armory Show of 1913. But we also must hope that they learn about another revolution — the one from 2013 and beyond that restored the arts to their rightful places in our classrooms and our schools.

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