I've taken art for granted.
I grew up going to a Waldorf School, where the visual arts were integrated into every subject I learned, and now as a senior at Solebury School, I've taken visual arts classes every trimester of my four years. I took its benefits for granted and never stopped to think if every education placed enough value on visual arts as the one I was privileged enough to receive.
After learning that only 27 states consider art a core subject, I began interviewing art teachers to see what they think about the importance of art in education. I conducted interviews with seasoned art teachers from the West Windsor Plainsboro School District, West Windsor Arts Council, Solebury School, Delaware Valley University, and the Orange Korner Arts in Philly. Every teacher I talked to has noticed the substantial impacts art has had on their students, from improving their mental and emotional health to developing their motor skills, decision making, problem solving, visual learning, and attentiveness. Most importantly, the visual arts, I realized, are building blocks for a skill being prioritized in the job market: creativity.
According to studies conducted by the Americans for the Arts Foundation, 72% of employers say that creativity is of primary concern when hiring, yet 85% of these employers can't find the creative applicants they seek. Why is it that a skill so important for workers in the 21st century can be so easily pushed to the side and considered a luxury at schools that are facing budget cuts, lack of time, and minimal support?
It is not for a lack of studies and research initiatives conducted. Even the College Board has recognized that art helps students draw connections between different subjects. However, there's still a lack of public awareness of just how much art can impact students. Among low-income students, the ones engaged in art are more than twice as likely to graduate than their peers who aren't. Visual arts doesn't mean arts and crafts for Halloween and Christmas, and in the rush to get through content and teach to the test, it is easy to forget that incorporating visual arts into the classroom is crucial to addressing and engaging every learning style, and that the results go beyond tomorrow's biology test.
So, my goal with all this is to advocate for the developmental and therapeutic benefits of an arts-based education on students by using my interviews to write articles and by giving a TEDx Talk on this topic in May. I want to reach students, teachers, and parents who don't already feel the need for art in their lives or in the lives of their students. I want to address the countrywide need for stronger and more cohesive arts programs at schools, especially in an increasingly technological world where students are required to use their creativity and engage in hands-on learning less and less, although they actually need it more and more to succeed in the workforce.
Lakumi Dias is a senior at Solebury School and wrote this article as part of her Teach2Serve capstone project on advocating for the arts in education.