Why the arts matter
Every day in schools, students learn to read, write, multiply and divide. These skills are fundamental and necessary for children’s future success. Arts education allows students to develop in other ways. By learning how to read music or create a graphic, students work together, build the self-discipline required to master new skills, and have a space to express themselves creatively. The arts also prepare students to thrive in an economy that is driven by innovation and creativity. Students who have experiences with the arts in schools have better academic outcomes, are more civically engaged, and have stronger attendance. Economically disadvantaged students who are engaged in the arts are twice as likely to graduate college as their peers with no arts education.
With all the far-ranging benefits, we’d expect to see more public resources dedicated to arts and arts education. But like most aspects of public education in Ohio, our elected leaders haven’t provided enough funds to support programs that will enrich students’ lives and prepare them for the future. Communities that can provide resources for arts education locally tend to be more affluent and mostly white. Nationally, Black and brown students earn an average of 25-30% fewer arts credits compared to their white peers.
According to a statewide survey by the Ohio Arts Council, the majority (83%) of Ohioans know their tax dollars are supporting the arts, and 91% believe they should be. Despite widespread support, the heavy reliance on local tax dollars for arts funding in schools runs the risk of creating a “hunger games” that pits districts against each other, wherein the wealthier the district, the more resources that will be made available to support the arts in those schools. State policymakers can mitigate this issue by including funding for arts education in the next state budget — and they can ensure all kids have a solid foundation by fully funding the Fair School Funding Plan.
I talked to several art and music teachers from across the state about how underfunding constrains their ability to inspire students and unlock young people’s potential, and what they could do if they had the resources they needed. Visual and media arts teacher and assistant band director at Ashland High School, Cameron Dedrick told me that the classrooms in his district need funding for new desks and other durable equipment, like the printing press his students use for special projects. Alexander Looney, choir teacher in East Holmes Local Schools, said his district needs funding for online course materials, so students can access sheet music and other tools and resources at home.
Ohio Art Education Association President and visual arts teacher at Pickerington High School Central, Matt Young told me that his district is very fortunate to have enough resources to provide a quality arts education for their students but lacks enough arts teachers. He said they have to turn students away from art programs, because they do not have the staff to support them. Statewide there are teacher and staffing shortages, especially among arts educators. State lawmakers must meet the educational needs of kids by funding schools to staff those positions.
Recent data from Ohio Alliance for Arts Education’s Arts Education Data Project shows that among Ohio’s K-12 students, 83% are enrolled in some kind of arts education class. Around 70% of students are enrolled in music and visual arts programs, but only 1% of students take drama classes and less than 1% are in dance. OAAE Executive Director Jarrod Hartzler blamed the disparity on a lack of qualified drama and dance instructors, a problem with its roots in the state budget. Jane D’Angelo, Executive Director of OhioDance, said dance teachers used to be able to get licenses to teach in schools through programs at Ohio’s public universities, but state lawmakers cut funding for the program. Now schools that want to add dance teachers can’t find qualified people. For example, she said, Lorain Public Schools want to add seven to nine dance teachers, but not enough people have the required license.
The arts bring people together across socioeconomic, cultural and geographic lines. The arts are one of Ohio’s most vibrant industries. Before the pandemic, they generated about $41 billion in economic activity a year and have been one of the industries to bounce back fastest from the COVID recession. Arts educators are integral to the success of the arts in Ohio. Continued support from our policymakers will help us cultivate the next generation of critical thinkers and problem-solvers and continue to rebuild Ohio’s economy in a post-pandemic era.