Why Don’t Millionaire Artists Pay for Arts Education?

If you’re an arts education advocate like myself, you have likely come across this question multiple times. It’s a question, which for me, feels like the ringing I get in my ears when nails scratch down a chalk board. I feel all the retorts wanting to spew up, and I usually only have time enough to pick one.

But, it would be foolish of me to alienate anyone who feels this way by expressing my sometimes petty annoyance, so let’s move beyond that. Let’s answer the question.

The simple answer is, they do.

Tony Bennett and Susan Benedetto founded non-profit Exploring the Arts in 1999, with a goal of installing arts programs back into public schools across the United States. They promote and welcome programs that ultimately have nothing to do with fame or fortune, rather, they look to have children learn a craft with depth of skill, and they wish these opportunities to be available for everyone, despite background or social constructs.

Many celebrities have given to ETA, including Whoopi Goldberg, Elton John, and Jerry Seinfeld. This is just one organisation among the MANY, founded by celebrities, and supported by them. Of course, we cannot forget Josh Groban founded Find Your Light, the organisation we love and support here at Share Your Light.

Find Your Light have funded over 50 programs and organisations, including The Academy of Music for the Blind, Rosie’s House, A Place Called Home, and Little Kids Rock.

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Not only do those in the artistic industries donate money, they donate their time and voice. Kevin Spacey, who this weekend is hosting the 71st Tony Awards, spoke to PBS:

“The power of theatre, the power of acting, the power of the tools of the living theatre, in terms of being able to help a young person stand up in front of a group of people, find a kind of self-confidence that maybe they never thought they could have, ability to collaborate with others, ability to communicate with others. I see it happen. It’s always interesting when I’m in a workshop, and I’m always looking for the shy kid in the corner, ‘cause that was me.”

It seems fitting that the glorious hashtag that has been shared in conjunction with promoting the Tonys is #IWasThatKid.

This is where we remind you that the National Endowment for the Arts have a miniscule budget in comparison to the revenue the industry brings in.
The artists who now bring in billions a year in revenue all over the world, the artists who do give all they can for arts education, they were once that weird, outcast kid dreaming of something more. They dreamt, they got the education they needed, and now they are both living their dreams, and entertaining the rest of society at the same time.

That’s all very nice, however you may still be asking, “But why should the rest of society pay for it?” “Why should my taxes (trust me, you won’t miss the small amount it ends up being) pay for it?”

Arts education benefits the whole of society, so it IS a society issue. Or, it very much should be, because the arts shape our world, and the character of its people, in very real, tangible, and intangible ways.

If you’re a regular reader, none of this is likely to be new to you, but let’s revisit some ideas for the sake of newer readers.

Arts Education is a step towards narrowing both achievement and socioeconomic gaps, and assists in related issues to this.

I have read countless articles praising the wider educational benefits of having available arts programs.

An article by Tom Jacobs explains that the stress related to poverty in children can be reduced through music, dance, and visual arts, based on a study of 310 disadvantaged preschoolers.

“Our bodies react to stressful situations by increasing our cortisol level, which gives us extra energy to protect ourselves against a perceived threat. People living in poverty (or other high-stress situations) often suffer from chronic elevated cortisol, which has been linked to a variety of health problems, including cognitive and emotional difficulties.”

On a personal note, I now recognise as an adult that I was very likely always suffering from depression as a child. This, coupled with a low income upbringing, meant that I found schooling, and life, extremely difficult.

As a family, we moved almost every two years, and my schooling was constantly changing.
Arts programs were a lifeline for me during this time. I may have been laughed at for ratty hair and clothing, but my teachers praised my creative writing, singing, and acting abilities. This brought a confidence I couldn’t find in my otherwise difficult circumstances, and the act of being creative definitely gave me an outlet for big emotions I did not understand. It also gave me something to connect to others with, since I was always having to make new friends.

Annie Obrien, Deputy Director of the Learning First Alliance, argued:

“Of course, arts education can’t close the achievement gap if low-income students lack access to it. And unfortunately, U.S. Department of Education data suggests that an opportunity gap does exist, with low-income students less likely to have access to arts education than their higher-income peers.”

Emily Deruy said in an article:

“Studies suggest that music lessons can help with everything from reading to spatial reasoning, and the College Board found that students who took art and music throughout high school scored higher on the SATs than students who did not.  A research paper from the National Endowment for the Arts suggested that eighth graders who were engaged in the arts throughout elementary school tested better in science and writing than their peers who were not involved in the arts.”

She explains how gaps are not only seen between poor and affluent, but also between white children and children of colour.

“The researchers suggest that this is largely because black and Latino students are more likely to come from poor families, and to attend high-poverty schools. But even when students share similar socioeconomic backgrounds and attend similar schools, white students fare better. Although the study does not offer much to explain why this is so, Sean Reardon, a Stanford education professor and one of the leads on the study, hypothesized during a phone interview it may be because schools track white students into more-rigorous courses. This hypothesis tracks with other recent findings, such as a report from two Vanderbilt University researchers suggesting schools underestimate the abilities of black and Latino students, and a study from Johns Hopkins University that found that white teachers are less likely than black teachers to think their black students will graduate from high school.”

Let’s sum this up a bit. Arts education has the power to reduce the effects of stress and other emotional issues, which can be prevalent in poor children, as well as boost the opportunity these children have for a better education.

When we reduce stressors and increase educational opportunities, we increase the likelihood of that child turning into a contributing member of society. Contributing members of society who are able to fill jobs, pay taxes, volunteer, and make better lives for our future children. Not only that, but we are also rearing an army of people who get what it’s like to be poor and disadvantaged, and who can then become the psychologists, politicians, doctors, researchers, social workers, etc, who are able to extend the hand of both expertise and empathy. Often our world leaders have too much of the former and not enough of the latter, which doesn’t help close these gaps.

Some time back, I was interviewing a music therapist at a university campus. On the wall there was an art piece, depicting a convict in black and white, painting himself into blue university robes. The image is burned into my mind, and is a constant reminder of the freedom that education can bestow in so many ways.

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There are various other reasons. I’ve chosen to concentrate on one of the most important ones, and I’ll now just briefly mention a few others, as we will continue to share articles to expand on these ideas in the future:

  • CEOs are wanting creatively minded employees
  • Creative thinking leads to innovation
  • Arts give the opportunity for community and family experiences for those who are bullied, etc
  • The arts are used in therapeutic relationships (for example, in music therapy, which is evidence based)
  • Public art displays educate in a non-confrontational way, while they brighten communities and give them a safer feel
  • Arts programs and events can bring together diverse peoples and give them something to bond over
  • We use the arts in all facets of life
  • Many in-school arts programs have found their presence has led to less drop outs, and greater attendance

Please also remember, having federal funding means that the funds aren’t so unequally spread and get where they need to be the most.

If you would like to donate to arts education, please visit our favorite foundation, Find Your Light.

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