Ensure arts' future through education

November 13, 2001|By Leslie Shepard

THE ARTS play an essential role in the quality of education and in the quality of city life. The connection becomes clear when we examine the evidence.

Children thrive in schools with arts education. This is not new. Rigorous national research supports the idea that arts instruction has a profound influence on academic achievement, discipline, the development of skills and critical thinking.

The arts inspire students to achieve and challenge students to examine the world in different ways. Those who demonstrate expertise and talent receive recognition and realize a sense of accomplishment. The proof lies in successful school models and high student achievement.

Recognized last year as one of the five leading public arts high schools in the country, the Baltimore School for the Arts has a 98 percent college admission rate and students with SAT scores over the national average. Our graduates distinguish themselves nationally in the arts, teaching, human service and business.

These accomplishments occur even though the school accepts students solely because of their potential in the arts, without consideration of previous academic achievement. Arts magnet schools throughout the country demonstrate similar successes.

This positive correlation between art and success in school has created an extraordinary level of demand for quality arts experiences by parents and school principals. At the BSA, we can accept only one in 12 applicants; our outreach program can accommodate one in seven.

What is the link between arts education in the schools and this grand vision? To ensure the continued quality and vitality of our cultural institutions and the success of the vision of Baltimore as an arts center, we must build a strong feeder system to produce and develop audiences and artists for the next generation.

Where will the audiences of tomorrow come from? Who will go to the live performances, visit museums and galleries and care for our institutions? Where will the musicians, actors, artists and designers come from who will play music, exhibit in art galleries, act on our stages, choreograph, direct, write, compose, conduct, and, most importantly, continue to support this vital growth initiative?

Here are two important ways: Continue to provide affordable, first-rate experiences in the visual and performing arts to families and schoolchildren through community outreach programs, and staff every school with qualified arts teachers.

Virtually every arts institution in Baltimore is focusing on the strategic issues of community outreach and audience development, and all offer excellent programs and some innovative collaboration between and among them.

In education, the State Board of Education has approved arts standards as part of the required curriculum. The new Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners has hired arts teachers and plans to hire more. Businesses and foundations support arts education initiatives such as the purchase of musical instruments for schoolchildren.

In "Building Community: The Arts & Baltimore Together," a report commissioned by the Baltimore Community Foundation, Ernest Boyer gives these priorities:

The civic leaders of the Baltimore area should officially affirm the arts as vital to the building of community and to the region's quality of life, and should expand the support for art and culture.

Baltimore-area schools should strengthen arts education at all levels and establish close connections with the region's arts and cultural institutions.

To fully realize these strategies, we must continue to build on what we have developed and stay the course with both leadership and resources.

Leslie Shepard is director of the Baltimore School for the Arts.

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