“The arts are an integral part of learning and an integral part of living,” said Baltimore high school student Alicia Thomas.
Thomas is a high school student devoted to the arts. She heard about the Arts Education Partnership (AEP) annual conference in Baltimore on September 15 and reached out to the event organizers, eager to share her voice with the arts educators, policymakers and advocates in attendance.
His enthusiasm was shared throughout the two-day conference, which assessed the state of arts education, highlighted best practices and envisioned the future role the arts will play in students’ lives.
What is the Arts Education Partnership?
The AEP is housed within the Commission on Education of the States (ECS) and was created with the support of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the United States Department of Education, all of which had representatives present. at this year’s conference. AEP relies on research, reporting, and collaboration to connect leaders across the spectrum of arts education in hopes of advancing quality arts education for all.
This year’s AEP convening drew attendees from across the country who represented the variety of leaders in arts education, from Ministry of Education researchers to college art teachers, and everything in between. The diversity of participants provided an opportunity to discuss best practices for arts education and advocacy.
The annual AEP conference is just one of the ways in which the organization works towards its mission. Space leaders use their research to inform their arts education teaching and advocacy techniques. The ArtScan tool, for example, describes the national arts education policy landscape, which can be used to understand how North Carolina is currently elevating the arts for students.
EdNC became affiliated with the AEP in April 2022, making this our first year representing North Carolina at the annual AEP conference.
A national look at arts education
Jeremy Anderson, President of ECS, highlighted the important role data should play in informing advocacy work. “We can’t get to where we want to go if we don’t know where we are right now,” he said.
So where are we?
A presentation by Anderson contextualized the national state of arts education to define where states can go from here. ECS tracks arts education policies as they progress through state legislatures and analyzes trends in these policies. The presentation highlighted the policies that states have implemented so far to promote arts education.
North Carolina is one of 23 states that has a grant program or school for the arts, and it is also one of 31 that recognizes the arts as a core academic subject. However, the state does not currently offer arts degree seals to high school graduating students who have successfully completed sequential education in one of the arts.
This data is only a snapshot of the policies ECS follows, but it can guide North Carolina’s next steps.
The Benefits of Data for Arts Education
“Better decisions require better information,” said Dr. Kenneth Elpus, associate director of the School of Music at the University of Maryland-College Park, in a presentation on how to leverage longitudinal data systems from the state for arts education research.
For North Carolina to be better equipped to make policy decisions that can improve the accessibility and quality of arts education, the state must first make a concerted effort to collect and maintain robust data on students and their long-term outcomes. The next step, Elpus suggested, is for arts advocates to use this data to test their “arts education wonder,” or the arts-related research question that interests them.
Elpus encouraged the use of state longitudinal data systems to uncover the answer to his research questions. These data follow students from their entry into the school system to their entry into the labor market and can be used, for example, to determine the longitudinal effects of access to quality arts education. The results of this type of research can in turn be used to persuade policy makers of the need for the arts, to inform best practices for integrating the arts into the classroom, and more.
Here’s everything you need to know about the North Carolina State Longitudinal Data System, compiled for each state by ECS.
The Legislative Future of Arts Education
Instead of a discussion of visual arts, theater, music or dance, Anderson focused on “the art of politics” in his presentation. He underlined the crucial role that the 2022 elections will play in the future of arts education.
Nearly 27 percent of all education chairs in the country will be replaced this year, along with many other national and local education officials, he said. This degree of turnover may create opportunities for the expansion of arts education, but could also hamper progress in policy-making, as newly elected or appointed officials will take time to get used to their role before pick up where their predecessor left off. This signaled participants to be patient but persistent in their advocacy efforts during this transition.
NEA President Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson also touched on the future of arts education in a discussion of her vision for the independent federal agency’s role in promoting the arts. The NEA is the largest funder of arts and arts education across the country, but Jackson said she hopes to reframe the organization as a national funder and resource for private and public supporters of the arts. arts.
Jackson described how the NEA works to reduce existing barriers to access to the arts through equity initiatives aimed at increasing the diversity of arts students and their teachers.
“The arts are most powerful when they don’t exist in a bubble,” Jackson said.
She acknowledged that the arts are less available in underserved schools and for students of color. However, she hopes the NEA can play a role in changing that.
Jackson also identified the challenges of NEA’s work. Advancing and strengthening arts education is not a feat that anyone can accomplish alone, she explained. Success requires collaboration within the arts education ecosystem, as was mentioned throughout the conference. The AEP meeting served as a springboard to advance the NEA’s goal and overcome this challenge, as participants connected and explored innovative solutions to looming issues in the world of arts education.
Students’ hopes for the future of the arts
The conference centered the voices of arts students in discussions about the future of arts education. AEP recognized the importance of giving them a place at the table to reflect on their experiences with the arts and describe the changes they hope to see.
Baltimore arts students played a key role in the conference. They shared their various art forms with attendees, playing their music, displaying their artwork and performing their speech between sessions.
But beyond that, they engaged in the important conversations underway, eager to ask presenters critical questions about what steps are being taken to improve the state of arts education over the next five or 10 years.
“Art is us,” Baltimore art students Shaine Sullivan and Trellis Forrester said in their original spoken word poem that opened the conference. They envision a future where all students can engage in the arts and have the opportunity to use their voice to influence arts education policy.
AEP hopes to use its network of arts education leaders to make this dream a reality.