Could we be at a Tipping Point for Arts Education?
In the past few years, there has been a fair amount of public attention (but not enough) on the dire state and inequity of arts learning for K-12 students. The expectation that arts are an essential aspect to student education has been lost. This year in Seattle, not a single arts organization was deemed qualified for the Families and Education Levy. This is surprising given the great deal of research demonstrating the strong link that arts education has to academic success and social development. Long term studies show that students from low socio-economic status that have consistent arts rich learning are over twice as likely to earn a college degree compared to those that do not. Creative learning provides purpose, connection to concepts, collaborative ability and engagement that equate to deep learning.
In short, arts education is critical and we must demand arts learning for our young people.
Now, let me turn this depressing train of thought around…
Despite the cuts, I strongly feel that we are approaching a tipping point that has the possibility of pushing this train in the other direction. Malcolm Gladwell writes in his book The Tipping Point “… in order to create one contagious movement, you often have to create many small movements first…The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.” Nationally and locally, big and small collaborative movements are happening that are generating momentum to put arts learning back on track.
Perhaps the largest local movement on this front is the Seattle K-12 Arts Learning Collaborative. The goal of this citywide effort is that all students in all Seattle Public Schools (SPS) have opportunities to learn through the arts, to succeed in school and in life. The community has come together in a powerful way—driven by the Seattle’s Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs and SPS with parents, the funding community and arts leaders such as Arts Corps, ArtsEd Washington, Arts Impact, PONCHO and Seattle Art Museum leading and owning the charge. This collective of leaders working together is extraordinary and VERY EXCITING!
We’ve been asked to write about this from the perspective of the oldest and newly transformed arts funding organization in Washington State—PONCHO (Patrons of Northwest Civic, Cultural and Charitable Organizations). PONCHO’s mission has been dedicated to enriching the quality of life in this region through increasing resources and community support for the arts since 1963. When I came on in 2009, the organization was asking important questions that have led to a significant transformation. The arts ecosystem is at a different place than it was 50 years ago—how can we better leverage our funding and community relationships to drive more powerful, lasting change?
PONCHO has answered this question with the launch of our first initiative-based investment strategy with a focus in arts education, with the idea that we can influence change through targeted investments—beginning with the development of creativity in our young people, the foundation. I am deeply inspired that the creative spark we see in our cultural community is mirrored in the current arts education efforts. PONCHO believes that we can be an influential force to help our community move past the tipping point.
In addition to our work with the K-12 Arts Learning Collaborative, we have a partnered with The Raikes Foundation and School’s Out Washington to provide investment incentives for arts organizations to participate in the Youth Program Quality Initiative. The program provides nationally recognized assessment and coaching, raising the quality of art education programs and enhancing organization ability to measure and prove the essential impact of arts in education.
I am so proud to be at the forefront of such a critical moment for the arts and education in our region. All of these efforts are extremely exciting, but there is still so much work to do. I encourage parents, artists, business leaders and the broader community to speak up to your schools and school boards, provide funding to arts education projects, and demand arts as part of education.
Thank you 4Culture for being a long term supporter of arts and culture in our community and inviting us to share our story!
Lorna Kneeland, Executive Director, PONCHO