Arts education means many
different things across the city’s 1200 public schools, as a recent City
Council report makes clear. Dancers might be
hired to teach “movement” to first graders to harness their excess
history teachers might take high school students to the Metropolitan
Museum’s “Art of the First Cities” exhibition for a long perspective
Middle East. In District 25, in Queens, students create multimedia works
that do double-duty as lessons about technology and Shakespeare. Overall,
however, the City Council concluded that funding, resources, and facilities
for arts education remain woefully inadequate.
Though all schools receive funding through Project A.R.T.S. (Arts
Restoration Throughout the Schools), each school principal chooses how to
allocate the funds, whether for professional development, an arts
coordinator, programming, or purchase of equipment and resources.
Financially strapped schools often tap into Projects A.R.T.S. money for
basic needs, since current regulations do not require that funds earmarked
for the program are actually spent on arts. According to Department of
Education figures, in 2002 only $12.5 million of the $52 million Project A.R.T.S.
funding went toward arts education. Schools Chancellor Joel Klein wants to
build more accountability into arts
education. As part of his efforts to reorganize and streamline the system,
Klein plans to implement a uniform arts curriculum by the fall of 2004.
Standards will be created to assess arts programs, and the city will track
how the $67.5 million Project A.R.T.S. budget is spent on a school by school
Regional Arts Supervisors
From her “Office of Strategic Partnerships” at the Board of Education,
Caroline Kennedy will oversee the new arts curriculum. According to
Kennedy’s advisor, Leslie Koch, Kennedy will work to “strengthen
relationships between schools and the city’s many arts institutions and
artists.” This will likely mean seeking private funding to supplement
Project A.R.T.S. money; already, some of the most ambitious school arts
programs are funded by the Department of Cultural Affairs, private
foundations, or large cultural institutions. The New York City Arts in
Education Roundtable estimates that 60 percent of funding for arts
programming in schools comes from cultural institutions and community
With the shift from school districts to regions, regional arts supervisors
will oversee as many as 100 schools and all age groups. Already, the average
pupil-to-art-teacher ratio in is 610 to 1. Some arts educators worry that
the supervisors will be overwhelmed under the new regional
structure, but Koch argues they will have the advantage of “being able
think about the whole gambit of arts education, from kindergarten through
Standards-based assessment has become the new mantra for educational reform.
A national review of arts education in 1997 revealed that most students’
exposure to the arts was sporadic and lacked any coherent plan. This finding
prompted the creation of assessment tools for desired outcomes of basic arts
learning, under the rubrics of creating, performing, and interpreting the
The standards are surprisingly specific. In evaluating movement skills among
students from kindergarten to fourth grade, they include: “students create
movements at low, middle, and high levels” and “students use improvisation
to discover and invent movement.” For theater education among the same
group, students are expected to “imagine and clearly describe characters,
their relationships, and their environments” and “visualize environments
construct designs to communicate locale and mood.”
By high school, dance students are expected to be able to “project”
(demonstrate movement and meaning to audiences) and theater students are
expected to “design coherent theater management and marketing plans.”
Under the direction of Angelo Gimondo, the outgoing superintendent of
District 30 in Jackson Heights who will become senior instructional manager
for the arts, the city has just one year to come up with an arts curriculum
and uniform standards to judge its success. Working committees made up of
education and artists will focus on each of four disciplines -- visual arts,
dance, theater, and music.
But, as demonstrated by the national effort, assessing the efficacy of
something as subjective and varied as arts education is challenging (we’ve
learned in recent weeks that even math tests can be flawed). In addition,
arts learning is freighted with multiple expectations in a way that math or
science are not. Research has found that involving students in creative
activities can improve their overall academic performance. For
troubled students, the arts can build self-confidence or provide direction.
Particularly in New York’s diverse classrooms, arts activities are often
media through which discussions about racial or cultural difference occur.
After 9/11, creative writing and role-playing became a kind of collective
therapy for thousands of shell-shocked students. Art performances or
programs are often a vehicle for involving parents or other community
members in schools.
Ron Russell, the former education director for Theater for a New Audience
and current artistic director of Epic Theater Center, says that art
activities have virtue as a process of “consistent reflection.” When
person tries to learn a song on the guitar, for example, they must pay close
attention, check their progress, and assess the results. Russell has found
that the repetition and revision of creative activity is often difficult for
students to grasp (“I just did that,” his drama students when asked
a line of dialogue again). Making art -- with its cycle of preparation,
rehearsal, and production -- can be a useful model for most kinds of work.
Making Arts Part of the Core
During the fiscal crisis of the 1970s, arts programs were zeroed out from
the city’s education budget, and there was no system-wide funding for
next two decades. It is a sign of the times that no one is considering doing
away with arts education today, thanks in part to the high-profile role
accorded to “creativity,” broadly defined, in the new economy.
Martha Hostetter writes for American Theatre magazine.
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