Wednesday, April 27, 2011

iArt: The Changing Face of Arts Participation

David Hockney / Me Draw on iPad
David Hockney / Me Draw on iPad. CC image courtesy of TonZ on Flickr.
Recently I had the opportunity to observe an art education program at the Brooklyn Museum with some fellow students for a course we are taking about art education outside the classroom. The program’s theme was traditions, and it began with a trip to the galleries to see an exhibition about the American Indian Tipi followed by an activity where the participants, aged 4-7, completed a painting about a tradition from their own lives. As my classmates and I observed the children painting, we became distracted by another child in the room. He was too young to participate, so he sat in his stroller, alongside his parents…drawing on an iPad.

Art on an iPad?
     It was a startling juxtaposition, as the youngest person in the room created art using the highest level of technology, amidst a dozen older children expressing themselves through a far more low-tech means (and tackling the subject of tradition, no less!). But it’s not just children so young that they will grow up not knowing life without an iPad who are embracing technology as a viable medium. One of my favorite painters, David Hockney, uses an iPad to create works of art—and he is 73! Hockney hasn’t given up on paints; rather, he uses the two media together. “The iPad is influencing the paintings now with its boldness and speed,” he told the LA Times.
     The National Endowment for the Arts is also recognizing this shift in arts consumption. A new analysis of the NEA's Survey of Public Participation in the Arts from 2008 includes participation through electronic media in its count of how many Americans consume the arts. Now listening to music through an iPod or Pandora counts; so does reading on a Kindle and (though the iPad didn’t exist in 2008) drawing on an iPad. In the past, emphasis was more strongly placed on attendance to plays, operas, ballets, museums, and the like.

More Ways to Consume Art... More Arts Consumers
     The result of this shift in understanding? The survey estimates that three out of four Americans participate in the arts. That statistic alone is an exciting piece of advocacy ammunition in budget battles being waged across the country right now—many of which are disproportionately affecting the arts and art education.
     It also serves as an important reminder to people of all ages about the ubiquity arts participation. The “benchmark arts” are important to measure, but not necessarily the best indicators of how many Americans enjoy the arts. It’s easy to forget that listening to music on an iPod—whether it’s Chopin, Radiohead, or Lady Gaga—counts as arts consumption as much as attending a ballet or going to a museum. The reason it’s easy to forget is that some arts participation isn’t even conscious—it’s just part of your routine.
     I think this would be a great topic for discussion in the art room. Do students feel that the art room is a vacuum—the only place they experience art in their lives? Or do they recognize the other more diverse ways that they participate in art just through everyday life?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Creativity—The Mother of Innovation

Businessmen CC image courtesy of VoxPhoto on Flickr.
As a student of arts administration, I have constantly been inundated with statistics or opinions recommending that arts non-profits emulate business practices. But a piece from the Economist’s Schumpeter blog proposes the opposite—that business can, and should, learn from the arts. Read on to find out why left-brain industries should be looking right.

Art: A Form of Communication
     Aside from pointing out that artists are savvy businesspeople in their own right (whether it’s Titian or Damien Hirst), the column also notes that business is not only numbers game. "Most bosses spend a huge amount of time ‘messaging’ and ‘reaching out’, yet few are much good at it. Their prose is larded with clichés and garbled with gobbledegook."  Indeed, when I was in college, some of the business majors I knew said they struggled through the few papers they had to do for their humanities requirements. (Meanwhile, as an English and Art History major, I did little BUT write papers.) It surprised me that there was so little writing in the business curriculum—after all, writing is a form of communicating, as is all art. Strategic plans and marketing analyses still require solid communication skills!

Creativity: Not just for right-brainers
     But what businesses can learn from the arts goes beyond a blurring of the hard versus soft skills divide. Last July, Newsweek's coverage of the Creativity Crisis created a stir in business, art, and education circles. The magazine reported that American students are falling behind on the creativity front—even as their collective IQ continues to rise. Kids are getting smarter, but they aren’t learning the skills they need to be creative. As Newsweek discussed, innovation is next to impossible without creativity. And beyond hard skills and soft skills, what is a good business without innovation? In Leadership, a course I took at NYU’s esteemed Stern School of Business, my professor constantly emphasized that differentiation is the key to strategy—and innovation has got to be one of the best differentiators there is.
     Though Newsweek took pains to separate the Creativity Crisis from art education, I would argue that the link is still a strong one—particularly when viewed in light of the National Endowment for the Arts’ recently released report (pdf, 3.8 MB) on art education in the US. The study noted a correlation between a decline in art education for our nation’s students…one I suspect would also correlate with this decline in creativity that Newsweek covered.
     Showing the practical applications of an art education—and especially ones that can translate into a career, in the arts or otherwise—is a great way to demonstrate the myriad ways art education bolsters our nations’ students. Do you have any examples of innovation that you have seen from your students in the art room? They could make a great advocacy anecdote!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Why I'm An Arts Advocate

NYU Advocates for Cultural Engagement at Arts Advocacy Day 2010 in Washington, DC. (I'm in the middle with the sign!)
I attended my first Arts Advocacy Day—the annual event where arts advocates from across the country descend upon Capitol Hill to tell legislators that we need the arts—last year. (I attended this year too—more on that later!) As we discussed advocacy strategies over of our leaders asked us to come up with stories from our lives that could effectively convey the power of the arts to our legislators. Embarrassingly, I had a difficult time coming up with a good story.

I’ve always been surrounded by art. I don’t have a “parents just don’t understand” sob story. I’m not an artist, but my mom is. My family is in the business of art education. At my fifth grade birthday party, my dad insisted that everyone watch a short film by Kurosawa before we could watch Clueless. Despite my near-constant immersion in the arts since childhood, it’s sometimes hard for me to describe why the arts are so important to me. I’m not an artist with an implacable drive to create. There was no defining moment, no one story, when I knew that this was what I wanted to do.

But when I think about it, it’s the sum total that makes me an arts advocate—all the art I have been exposed to, all the opportunities I’ve been so lucky to have. Even if I’m not an artist, all of my exposure to the arts made an impression on me enough to lead me where I am today, embarking on a career in the arts. I have been lucky to have all these opportunities, and I want everyone else to have those opportunities too—whether it’s part of their family or not. I can’t imagine who I’d be without the arts. And that is why I’m the Art Advocado. I'll be blogging here about arts education advocacy and policy to keep you updated and start some conversations about formal and informal advocacy strategies for These Difficult Economic Times, and beyond!

(P.S. This post from the Artistic Rebuttal Book Project perhaps says it more concisely than I did!)