In the 20 years since the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 defined “arts” as a “core academic subject,” and the six years since the Every Student Succeeds Act declared them as part of a “well-rounded education,” arts education in American public schools has shrunk dramatically. The Commission on the Arts, at the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, says we are at a crisis point, where access to arts education is declining steadily—and action must be taken to reverse the trend.
In 2018, the American Academy of Arts & Sciences convened a Commission on the Arts to examine the state of arts education in the United States, and to assess the need for greater support. The Commission ultimately focused on the challenges of access to arts education in public schools.
The resulting report, Art for Life’s Sake: The Case for Arts Education, finds ample evidence for the attributes, values, and skills that come from arts education, including social and emotional development, improvements in school engagement, as well as more vital civic and social engagement. It also offers concrete recommendations to improve educational policy at the local, state, and national levels.
Click here to access Art for Life’s Sake
The Commission is chaired by three Academy members: actor and author John Lithgow, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts President Deborah Rutter, and two-time United States Poet Laureate, Natasha Trethewey. They led a group of 38 other artists, scholars, and activists, all of whom contributed their time and expertise to this multi-year effort.
Art for Life’s Sake documents a persistent decline in access. While 88% of Americans agree that arts education is an essential component of a well-rounded education, there has been a persistent decline in support for arts education, particularly in communities that cannot finance it on their own.
“Americans understand the value of an education that includes the arts,” says Rutter, “but we as a nation have not established sustainable educational policies that make it possible for all students to receive the education they need.”
“We want every child to have access to music, paintings, writing, theater—all the arts—regardless of their socio-economic circumstances,” says Lithgow. “We want all American children to learn how to express themselves and to understand the ways in which others express themselves.”
To reverse negative trends, the Commission on the Arts is issuing a set of policy recommendations in six key areas for local, state, and national elected leaders to embrace.
- Make the Arts an Important Part of Every Child’s Education by offering a diverse set of arts classes and including arts among the core distribution requirements.
- Elevate the Role of the Arts through Data, Research, and Accountability at the federal, state, and school district levels, and reform accountability systems to incorporate arts education into the range of outcomes schools cultivate.
- Ensure Arts Education Funding Is Adequate and Equitable through substantial economic support for public education and adequate funding mechanisms at the state and local level.
- Recruit, Develop, and Support Arts Educators by establishing policy and funding priorities to increase the availability of arts educators, especially those from underrepresented groups.
- Foster Collaboration within the Arts Education Landscape through adequately funded arts-based school-community partnerships.
- Restore Federal Leadership in the Arts through increased funding, the reinstatement of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, and a national celebration of arts education.
“Ultimately, arts education must be a group effort, a partnership in every community,” says Trethewey. “Art for Life’s Sake offers strong recommendations to our policymakers and calls on our public institutions to make a greater effort. At the same time, it acknowledges that museums, community centers, and other stakeholders have an important role to play in the dissemination of the arts in our public schools.”
“Arts education is not simply a training ground for future artists. It is a critical element in the education of every American, an important window on the wider world,” said Academy president David Oxtoby. “The American Academy of Arts & Sciences is grateful for the work of the commission members who produced this report and determined to help find a way to make arts education more accessible to every student.”
The Commission is funded by the Barr Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Getty Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, and Roger and Victoria Sant.
Contact: Alison Franklin / AFranklin@amacad.org