Arts is not only a fundamental component of education but a fundamental part of human experience and existence. For far too long, the American education system has segregated the arts, rendered creativity a “type” and determined that something is either “an art or a science.” We are better aware now that this duality is a false one and that one does not exist without the other. That is not to say we do not access understanding more readily through a science, math, musical or photographic lens (no pun intended). However, we readily accept the beauty of science and the physics of photography and cannot as well appreciate or explore one without the other. As such, I support the growing return to arts as “basic education”, its expansion in our schools, course eligibility as graduation requirement and accountability for equitable access to art programming.
I have a Bachelor’s degree in Art specializing in photography and dance. I chose this path because:
a) I believe the creative problem-solving process is key to human endeavors.
b) From my own cultural upbringing, I understand how central the arts are to our world views and the telling of our stories, as in our history.
c) Having been gifted the opportunity to pursue a “liberal education” at Stanford, I felt an arts education was foundational, but was learning I had not had opportunity to pursue it in depth.
I had come to this understanding during my year abroad in Italy, at age sixteen. The Italian educational system does value art as fundamental. Students learn art starting in K-5. The lowest level art class offered in the secondary level was architecture. As Art was a required course, I was put in the lowest level class. Without prerequisite skills, however, I was relegated to a sunny corner with an array of oil paints, canvases and spent the year teaching myself how to mix oils. Meanwhile the ninth graders constructed architectural models and I resolved to keep learning.
While I don’t currently practice art, per se, my arts education remains fundamental to my thinking, problem solving and appreciation for design. I remain involved in the support of the arts and served on Native Arts and Cultures Foundation, Sand Point Arts and Cultural Exchange and Potlatch Fund Boards. I spearheaded innumerable arts programs in dance, music and theatre at my children’s elementary school and most recently supported the Art with Heart program Art Show with my community Magnuson Park in the wake of the killing of Charleena Lyles. As a source of restoration from trauma, that particular art program was deeply impactful.
Washington State law considers the “arts” part of basic education and we now we have Creative Advantage in sixty-one schools in Seattle, District 1. However, we need to continue to expand. We must also allow arts courses as options to fulfill graduation requirements, and work with the state to create a state funded School of the Arts. There is a significant opportunity to lead in Seattle Public Schools with the development of a, currently non-existent, Arts policy that builds on the Creative Advantage program and further prioritizes Arts in our curriculum.
Arts opportunities can in many cases be the lynchpin of self-expression and exploration that guides a student, a student whose voice is otherwise minimized or muted by societal oppression and erasure, toward their achievement of academic health. Connecting creativity and science, math and music, sports and statistics, these are all ways it becomes clear that arts is both imperative and integral to any educational experience. Access should not and must not be limited to geography, income, language or race. What this requires is not only providing the opportunities but holding ourselves accountable to equitable access.
I was an early supporter of Creative Advantage at Seattle Public Schools, working to get the program to my children’s Title I school. Because of funding, it was not forthcoming. As a result, we worked with community-based organizations such as Arts Corps to help recruit and contract with an arts educator and short-term music residencies supported through groups like Ladies Musical Club of Seattle. Six years on, we received an both arts and music teachers. What then became problematic was finding staff to fill these roles, a District-wide concern. We will not only have to continue to build up the program but find ways to support the supply of qualified teachers, specifically teachers of color. This means we need to classify as “high need” at the state level and allow alternative certification pathways.
Seattle School District currently struggles to invest in our public education students in a way that meaningfully “grows our own”. In the same way that we do not invest in dual language programming, we are not investing in students who will grow the creative economy. Downward fiscal pressures and limited Arts prioritization at the City level continue to minimize opportunities local in film, arts and dance, particularly for artist of color. A cohesive collaboration between the School District, and municipal commitment to the Arts and Artists of color will further expand not only “conventional” arts opportunities but the intersection of arts and technology or STEAM, so as to fertilize a more vibrant and equitable creative economy in Seattle.