Almost every school in the country has some form of artistic expression available to students whether that be a required class, elective, or after school club. Most schools offer choir, band, a school play or musical, dance teams, art clubs or classes, orchestra, and/or Film/TV production type activities. All of these clubs or classes involve both physical and mental activity as well as promote team work, creativity, cooperation among students and hard work. That sounds like a dream come true for most schools that wish to have students become more active in the school community as well as being involved in clubs and classes that promote such good values and lessons. This sadly is not how most schools boards and officials see it.
As someone who has been in Arts programs their whole life this issue holds very near and dear to my heart. I have been involved in the chorus at Perkiomen Valley elementary, middle, and high school levels. I have been in the indoor color guard, the middle school cabarets and musical and participated in my high schools drama club. I have been attending Playcrafters Drama camp for about 5 years along with some of my Perkiomen Valley classmates. I have sung in my high school talent show and have taken music and art classes all through my education. There is not always a place for people like me who enjoy watching Funny Girl or Sound of Music on DVD or drawing in sketchbooks constantly. The Chorus, musical programs, and other art programs have helped me to be able to express that side of me and meet other people who share the same interest as I do. And for that I am eternally grateful.
Our country lately has been in more and more debt as well as financial trouble. The effects have been on a local scale such as layoffs, stores closing and budget cuts. This is especially affecting schools nationwide. Many schools are in thousands even millions of dollars in debt due to the rough economy. That means of course sacrifices have to be made about what a school can and cannot afford. Deciding what can stay and what can go is the challenge – expensive or “unnecessary” expenses a school has in their curriculum and after school programs are the first to be analyzed.
The answer, unfortunately, is usually the arts. Whether it is art classes, orchestra, or schools play and musical, the Arts are in most cases the first cuts made to schools. This is mainly because schools need to make cuts and feel that the arts in schools are not as important as other teams, clubs or classes offered. The problem is arts in school are a huge part of many students lives and of those people would not be where they are today without it.
I believe that the arts in schools are extremely vital to keep in a school community. It gives kids a place to belong. Being part of a type or club or team has been shown to help students to feel more accepted and happier in their time at school. Extracurricular and clubs range from all different types and varieties to choose from. For athletic students you have sports teams, for more “brainy” or education focused kids there are clubs like science club or academic decathlon teams. But what about the students who want both mentally and physically stimulating activities and who enjoy being creative and don’t mind getting their hands dirty to make it happen? That is when the arts programs come in. The arts in a genre all its own, it can consist of creating sculptures or painting or singing and acting in a play for hundreds of audience members. The arts are for students who want a place where they can be themselves, be creative, and show their individuality whether that be through interpretive dance or oil paintings. Being in a choir or drama club can help give students a home away from home. It gives them a sense of freedom of expression and togetherness they may not be able to have in their regular 6 to 7 hour class schedule.
While being in other teams or clubs can have that same feeling for other students as well, the arts gives those of us who would rather listen to Stravinsky or Sondheim rather than Today’s top 40. It gives a place to those who would rather paint or sculpt the box instead of thinking inside it by answering objective type questions. The arts allow those who wish to run lines instead of running sprints. It encourages creativity in different shapes and forms instead of promoting a structured and by the book type of environment. While those can be great when discussing lesson plans or game plans, they are not related as well to the arts and what students in those programs do as far as activities go. It gives students homes that need one.
The arts can also help the students help the school. While a musical or art show may be for participant’s interested in art that does not mean that other parts of the school cannot get involved. Those in wood shop or technology education are allowed the opportunity to help create sets and display cases for a show. Marketing students can help out by working with advertisers and their computers to create flyers, posters and playbills. Journalism classes or newspaper clubs can review and recap the new school musical or concert. Film and video production students have performances to tape, video or edit. They could not film parts of the chorus concert or dance team performance to show Monday in homeroom as part of morning announcements. The ticket sales and baked good sales alone can help boost the schools bank accounts by a few hundred after money is shared. The arts may be only one group of activities, but they can help contribute to others in many different ways than meets the eye.
As I said before, there are not always places for musical fanatics or creative “artsy” people to express themselves freely. While shows like Glee and The Voice help to encourage musical involvement. , Dance Moms and Dancing with The Stars for dancers, and even our favorite cartoons for the artist in us, it is not always enough. I believe that an involvement in the arts helps people to express themselves in ways they never imagined. At first it can be nerve wracking and frightening. But from my experience the arts have helped me to overcome my fears and anxiety. Things like improvisation help keep your brain alert and you on your feet. Learning dance moves help to build muscle and workout your body. Drawing, painting, or sculpting can help with creativity and perspective. Being in a play or choir can help promote team work as well as hard work. Even learning how to play an instrument and how to read notes can help your brain learn languages better. The arts are not just to teach kids to read script or draw pictures, but to help them in all different paths of life.
Imagine a world without some of your favorite celebrities, artist, actors, dancers, and singers. Think of your favorite Idol winner or Movie you enjoy. Odds are those performers and artists were involved in arts at their schools that helped them to get to where they are today. Neil Diamond and Barbara Streisand both sang in choir at the same high school together. Carrie Underwood participated in her schools talent shows as a kid. Actors like Chris Colfer and Debra Messing both participated in their schools and community theater programs. Even Andy Warhol studied Art in his education at college. All these artists had programs and opportunities that were introduced or encouraged due to education. Whether that be elementary, high school, or even colleges that helped shaped them to go on to win awards and be admired by millions of people worldwide. We would not have many of the inspirations we do today without those school programs and opportunities given to those future stars. I feel we should encourage students who want to inspire to be the next Grammy or Tony award winner to go out there and achieve their goals. And to do so we need to take the first step which is offering programs and classes for people to help achieve those goals. Arts education and funding is not just to help people find a place in their school, but can help shape their future to find a place in the world.
As you can see, the arts are very important to me. I have been involved in many different kinds of programs that have helped me to make friends, memories, and my talents to where they are today. Without clubs like chorus or shows like the middle school cabaret I would probably not have as many friends or lasting memories as I do now. I have so much gratitude toward the arts and the memories and experiences that they have given me. I just hope that those same opportunities will be around for future generations to enjoy and thrive in like I did.