Art Advocacy Begins in Your Classroom
I am thrilled to be the new Arts Advocacy chair for the Virginia Art Educators Association. I think I was born to do this job. Art has been such an important part of my whole life. My mother was an artist, and when I was little I watched her marvel at things that may have seemed ordinary to others. She noticed the tiny details, the texture, the colors and object relationships of things. She was fascinated by how color looked in clouds and in the grease of her frying pan. The best part about these moments was that she would share them out loud with me. I learned so much by watching, listening and appreciating the fact that she took the time to notice all these things that made up her world. Her extraordinary search for the beauty in all things has carried over into my life and in doing so has made me appreciate the true value and importance of art education--not only because it ties to other core subjects, but because a quality art education in and of itself is important and has value.
As a professional art educator, you know and understand the importance of art in children’s lives, but do those around you? As an artist I sometimes just assume art is as important to everyone else as it is to me, but that is not always the case. As art educators we all need to be strong advocates for our chosen field, especially in this day and age when art programs seem to be pushed aside for subjects that are tested, measured and data driven.
Arts advocacy starts at home, and in our case, in our classrooms. When we hear the words Arts Advocacy, we sometimes turn a deaf ear to such a lofty goal, believing it to be an issue best left to others. But stop for a moment and consider where art is taking place…right in your classrooms. Each child you inspire, and each life you touch, can be another person who will proudly advocate for his or her own art education right now and in the future. Start by sharing your own passion for art with your students. Let your students see how important art is to you. If you see something that is fascinating in a work of art, share it with your class. Your students will pick up this enthusiasm and carry it throughout their day and their lives.
The next step in art advocacy is to celebrate and share with others those times when art makes a different in a child’s life. Create a newsletter for your art room to let parents and administrators know about the changes you are making in students’ lives. Share art information and projects in your school’s morning announcements. Add an informational poster or learning statement to your hallway art displays that include the lesson objectives, art history, STEAM connections and the artist studied. You can also include a QR code that will take the viewer directly to a web link related to the art or artist being discussed.
When you are ready to take another step, get your School Board involved. Make sure you are keeping them up-to-date on any art shows, exhibits or awards your school has won. Arrange to have art on display at board meetings. Invite members to your student shows and make sure to send them the newsletter you created. Ask parents to speak on behalf of their child’s art education and the importance of a quality art program in your school. Contact your state and federal lawmakers. These are important people to reach out to. You may think you are only one person but you are one person with a vote, so let your representatives know you vote for people who support the arts.
Artists are the visionaries who imagine answers to questions that are just now being asked. “The arts make vivid the fact that neither words in their literal form nor numbers exhaust what we can know,” said Elliot Eisner. The creative mind is not limited to information that is measured or purely data driven. As Ellen Winner writes, “Cultures are judged on the basis of their arts. The arts are a fundamentally important part of culture, and an education without them is an impoverished education, leading to an impoverished society”.