Wednesday, June 29, 2011

No More Pencils, No More Books: Art Teacher Appreciation Day

Drawing Class
A drawing class, possibly at Central School in Lethbridge, 1930s.
Courtesy of the Galt Museum and Archives on The Commons.

I believe I have quoted Americans for the Arts’ Marete Wester in the past, who wrote in this post for ARTSblog that being an art education advocate requires the temperament of a manic-depressive optimist. Indeed, when writing my posts for Art Advocado each week I often feel like a bit of a Debbie Downer. But it’s not all bad news in the world of art education. The good news is there, you just have to dig a little.

So! In celebration of the end of another school year (at least in most areas—I know some of you who had a rough winter might be in school right up to July!) I am rounding up some inspiring and positive news from the world of art education. The hard work of art teachers and their students may go unnoticed by the front pages of the New York Times, but not so here at Art Advocado!

  • Congratulations to Hinsdale, Illinois art teacher Theresa McGee! McGee, who is also a SchoolArts columnist, was honored with a PBS Teachers Innovation award for her use of technology and public media in her art room. This interview with Theresa has more information on the award and her teaching techniques. (Spoiler alert: her great uncle invented Sesame Street’s mathematician vampire, the Count!) ****UPDATE: Theresa's great uncle took part in the development but was not the sole inventor. Apologies for the confusion, Theresa!
  • Here’s a lovely interview with Germantown, MD art teacher Peter Plant. Plant talks about the challenge of being an art teacher and what his students are learning both within and outside the realm of art.
  • In my own Brooklyn neighborhood, PS 34 celebrated the end of the school year with their annual art parade. Students donned “wearable art” outfits pertaining to the artists they studied in school. Check out the costumes—they’re fantastic! (I hope I get an invite next year.)
  • Rome, Georgia residents honored their longtime art teacher with a celebratory exhibition. The show featured the work of Chris Hodges, who is retiring after 21 years of teaching, as well as artwork by his students over the years.
  • Newberry, Florida city commissioners and historic preservationists partnered with art classes to help drum up interest in the city’s historic district. Fourth grade students drew historic buildings while high schoolers created plans for the future of Newberry; the works are now displayed together at a public exhibition.
  • On the left coast, the Oregon Red Cross is exhibiting student artwork inspired by the tsunami in Japan earlier this year. The idea was born out of one Red Cross employee’s desire to memorialize the tragic event, and to educate area youth about disaster preparedness. The Art of Disaster: Views on the Japanese Earthquake is on view at Portland's Red Cross building through August.

Cheers to all of you, and to your colleagues across the country who work tirelessly to keep art in our schools. Hip hip hooray!

Do any of you have success stories about your own art classes? Leave them in the comments!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Across the Pond: Lost Arts in the UK

London Protest 2010
Protest to Education Cuts in the UK, 2010. CC image courtesy of Selena Sheridan on Flickr.

Arts advocates in the US of A may be used to hearing stories of strong government support for the arts abroad and wondering why we don’t have that kind of support—especially as Kansas loses their arts commission and the National Endowment for the Arts continues to be politically contentious despite the miniscule amount of federal funding it receives. But the arts are suffering abroad as well, as economies shrink and everyone is looking for places to scrimp. In the UK, Mark Brown, The Guardian’s arts columnist, is recording the effects of arts cuts in his Culture Cuts blog. The blog chronicles the impact of cuts to the Arts Council (the UK's version of the NEA) as well as the effects of regional and local arts cuts. It’s interesting to see the many parallels that are playing out across the pond as organizations struggle with funding cuts from all sides.

Tallying the True Cost of Arts Cuts
     One Culture Cuts post really struck my fancy; it’s about the website Lost Arts, which is tallying the “true cost” of public sector arts cuts in the UK. Lost Arts tracks not only money lost to the arts and cultural sector (over £20 million at the moment) but also the amount the UK economy has lost due to arts cuts (approaching £41 million as this post is published). The site also keeps track of specific programs and organizations that have lost out or folded due to lack of funding. (Sounds disturbingly familiar, huh?)
     “We are not saying that the Arts are more important than other sectors. We just want to make sure that the effects of these cuts are properly recorded and publicised,” according to the “Who We Are” section of the website. “Our aim is to show what we could be losing forever, on a day by day basis.” The site, which is run by a group of eight unions directly affected by arts cuts, also accepts submissions from organizations or individuals to be added to the database.

Lost Arts - US Edition?
     I think the Lost Arts concept is simple and brilliant, and one that could certainly be adapted in the US. Some who feel that arts cuts are a necessary evil might mistakenly equate arts funding with museums, operas and ballets. While these organizations suffer in the face of shrinking funds, it’s the community organizations and grassroots programs working in communities that are often most vulnerable. As a Google Alert junkie I receive word of these cuts every day in the form of articles from small town newspapers lamenting the impact of arts cuts on their community, often in the form of lost art education programs both inside schools and out. If all these dozens--nay, hundreds--of stories were agglomerated we might just have a very powerful advocacy tool demonstrating the true cost of arts cuts this side of the pond. Or, one could start a little smaller with a local or statewide version of Lost Arts. (Are you listening, Kansas?)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Scary State of the Arts in NYC Schools

The Gates, Central Park, New York City
Christo & Jeanne-Claude, The Gates, Central Park NYC, 2005. CC Image courtesy of Kevin Coles on Flickr

A new policy briefing from the Center for Arts Education details the state of the arts in New York City’s public schools, and it’s not looking pretty. According to the report, the schools lost 135 art teachers in the 2009-2010 school year—bringing the system down to 2007 levels after two years of increases in art teachers. Funding for art supplies has decreased as well. As the city is planning to lay of 4,100 teachers in order to shave $269 million off the budget, it’s only likely to get worse for students in the NYC public schools.

Arts for Our Own in NYC
     This news is obviously distressing, and not just because I’m an arts administrator in New York City. What makes this city so great is the culture. I chose to come here to pursue my career in arts administration because of the wealth of cultural riches available in New York. And that doesn’t just attract residents, but tourists as well. Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s The Gates drew four million people to Central Park during the coldest month of the year back in 2005. The Alexander McQueen exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum is so popular (and crowded) that the museum is charging hiked entrance fees on Mondays for those who want to tour the show in peace while the museum is normally closed. Art and culture were key to the resurgence of Brooklyn, the borough I call home along with millions of other transplants. It’s shameful for a city that heavily depends on the arts to deny art education to its own students.

Culture Means Business!
     Mayor Bloomberg knows the arts attract dollars. He was the one who helped make The Gates happen back in 2005. And it’s no mistake that the two week public art happening in Central Park occurred in February. In frigid midwinter, after the holiday season but before the spring thaw, tourists may be more likely to avoid New York (and I can’t say I’d blame them—New York in February is pretty brutal). The Gates was savvy way to bring tourists to New York during this typically slow time for tourist traffic, and they succeeded. The free installation generated $254 million in economic activity for New York City. Not too shabby for mid-February.
     Bloomberg also supports the arts personally; in February his family foundation announced $32 million in funding opportunities for cultural institutions over the next two years. So our Mayor understands the importance of the arts—why can’t he extend this to the schools? As the National Endowment for the Arts has showed us, students who have had an art education are more likely to be cultural patrons later in their lives. Investing in art education now would help the cultural institutions Bloomberg patronizes down the line. Cultural institutions (and, indeed, the city itself) can’t survive on tourist dollars alone. They need local cultural patrons to support them in chilly midwinter, when the tourists aren’t here. But if art education continues to decrease in the NYC schools, those patrons won't be there.

Read more about the CAE’s policy brief in the New York Times and the New York Post. And check out pictures from CAE’s rally for art education at City Hall last week here.

Friday, June 10, 2011

R.I.P., Kansas Arts Commission

2010-08-09 - Buffalo Bill, Buffalo Kill Statue
Buffalo Bill, Buffalo Kill by Charlie Norton, Oakley, KS. Image courtesy of meltedplastic on Flickr.

On May 28, Governor Sam Brownback confirmed the worst fears of arts advocates in his state and across the country by vetoing the Kansas Arts Commission’s allocation in the state budget. On June 1 the Kansas legislature attempted to override Brownback's veto, but fell short of the two-thirds majority needed. Congratulations, Mr. Brownback on a sad first for your state: first without an arts agency. Read on to find out about the massive ripple effects of this cut, the national response, and even a silver lining.

A Cut that Costs More than it Saves
Critics of Mr. Brownback’s veto, including Bob Lynch at Americans for the Arts and Henry Schwaller, the now former chairman of the Kansas Arts Commission, have already pointed out that cutting $689,000 from the state budget will actually cost Kansas more than it saves. The elimination of the arts commission renders Kansas ineligible for $1.2 million in funding from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Mid-America Arts Alliance. Indeed, the total amount is probably much higher, as NEA regrant funds channeled through the Arts Commission as well as Arts Commission grants on their own are often heavily leveraged. So organizations will not only lose out on that funding, but they won’t be able to use it to attract other funders either. This will have an enormous ripple effect on the arts in the state, from organizational programming to Arts in Education programs for K-12 students that were directly supported by the Arts Commission.

On the bright Side: "the arts will not roll over"
There is a bit of a silver lining to be found in this terrible situation, and that is the strong advocacy—and strong arts support within the Kansas state government—that has come to light. By vetoing the Arts Commission line item, Governor Brownback is standing alone, countering the wishes of state representatives and the people of Kansas. The Kansas state legislature passed the budget that included the Arts Commission line item, AND tried to override Brownback’s veto. (It’s particularly worth noting that the Arts Commission override was the only override, despite Brownback’s “scorched earth” budget, which included $5.9 million in across-the-board cuts to state agencies.) Brownback may be getting what he wants—but it's not what the state of Kansas wants. It’s heartening that so many in Kansas understand the importance of the Arts Commission (and more broadly, the arts) to their state.

And whether it’s through Brownback’s private Kansas Arts Foundation (which is meant to pick up the slack on funding the arts in the state) or through other creative ways, the arts indeed will not die in Kansas. I liked what Kansas native Bob Anderson said on ARTSblog; essentially, lemonade must be made from lemons. “The arts will not roll over,” he wrote. “They are here to stay.”

Further Reading
This story is still developing and advocates continue to weigh in with their opinions on the future of the arts in Kansas. Here are a few places where you can find more information:
  • Here’s a Q&A with the former chairman of the arts commission, Henry Schwaller, who gives more information on Brownback’s private foundation meant to pick up the slack on funding the arts in Kansas. (Schwaller says it’s not working.)
  • Createquity. has an excellent rundown of opinions on the Arts Commission’s demise from across the internet.
  • Like the Kansas Art Movement on Facebook! It’s a great way to show your support and follow local and national reactions and advocacy efforts in the wake (The page was created after Brownback ordered the Kansas Art Comission’s Facebook page to be shut down after the defunding.)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Artists and Jocks - Unlikely Allies?

Jeff Koons
Jeff Koons, Three Ball 50/50 Tank, 1985. Broad Art Foundation, LACMA. Image courtesy of rocor on Flickr.

When I was in elementary school (and middle school, and high school) I generally looked forward to arts and humanities classes, while, as a non-athlete, I dreaded gym class. Yes, somewhat embarrassingly, I completely embody the stereotype of the student who skewed to the artsy/academic side of things and avoided all things athletic. My last day of gym class was one of the happiest days of my life. I am still stricken with by a wave of panic if a ball from a casual game of soccer comes anywhere near me while I’m relaxing in my favorite park. So what do sports have to do with arts advocacy? Read on to find out...

     Recent efforts by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (the federal agency that supports, wait for it, museums and libraries), in conjunction with several professional associations, are working to combine these two seemingly opposite ends of the spectrum. Let’s Move! Museums and Gardens, which launched on May 23, is a collaborative program that will engage museum and garden visitors in exhibitions and activities promoting physical activity and healthy living.
     Over two thousand participating institutions hope to reach 200 million visitors with the program in the next year through interactive exhibitions and after school/summer programs, as well as healthier food choices within the institutions themselves. “Let’s Move! Museums & Gardens is a terrific example of the role that museums can play in addressing societal challenges and devising strategies to shape a better tomorrow," Ford Bell, the director of the American Association of Museums, said on the occasion of the program’s launch.

Two Birds, One Stone?
     Indeed, this connection between cultural and physical well-being is an interesting one. Though some of us (at least the, er, less athletically inclined ones) on the artistic side may think of athletics as mainstream and thriving, the numbers paint a different picture. Aside from abysmal statistics on the health of kids in our nation (nearly one in three kids qualifies as obese according to the Let's Move! press release), phys ed budgets have been targeted for cuts alongside art education ones—making the two areas potential allies in their struggles. As Valerie Strauss pointed out in the Washington Post, art ed and phys ed are both in the unenviable positions of having to provide statistics to proving the benefits of their respective subjects—when they are really quite obvious to anyone paying attention.
     Though details about the nature of Lets Move! programming have yet to emerge, I wonder if similar programs could possibly emerge in school systems to make the most of declining budgets in both subjects. Tongue-in-cheek kidding aside, artists and jocks might have more in common than we previously thought!