Art Succeeding Above the Fray

Have you read this article? Helen Gym does a great job of explaining the difficult and system shattering decisions behind the potential layoffs and school closures in Philadelphia. "In a climate this political it is difficult for well intentioned nonprofits to find ground to stand on," says program director Julia Terry in referring to the difficult position any talk of school politics puts arts programs like ArtWell in. "There is a lot at stake with funding, professional connections, and well, the good of the everyday student," she continues. If schools can't afford to teach math and science, how will they ever afford elective courses like art and poetry?

While the "he said, she said," messages fly, maybe it is the well-intentioned nonprofit's dictum to stand for the rights of the students. After all, when you peel back the layers of financial reform, admin layoffs and school closings, it is the students who stand the most to lose.

Research concretely demonstrates growth in child development when the arts are a part of daily school curriculum. It is becoming more and more common for arts programs that work as a third-party agent to assist schools in creating and maintaining a holistic learning environment. Offering nonprofit answers to cumbersome budget issues is just how programs like ArtWell aid both the school and the student at the same time. As systems for recording progress have become tangible and provable schools are learning that the arts offer student enrichment that conquers not just the symptoms but the greater issue of poor test scores, in school subordination, and the ultimate school to prison pipeline.

Art in schools has demonstrated the power to foster in students a social and emotional intelligence through craft making, play and storytelling that augments the learning process of more structured subjects like math, reading and science.

While ArtWell is deeply concerned about impending cuts and closures, they are eager and equipped to help support educators and strengthen education in Philadelphia for our children and future. Fortunately it is not the only program of its kind. Projects like Young Audiences, Build a Bridge and Mighty Writers have discovered that they can impact the lives of under-served youth. A 2012 NEA Research Report shows the potentials of Arts Education for At-Risk Youth. It states that these groups who served low-SES (low socioeconomic status) youth are three times more likely pursue and obtain higher education. The statistics speak for themselves.

Unlike previous qualms with arts education, we know without a doubt that the work is measurable and has significant impact on students and manifests itself in all areas of student life. While education in the U.S., and specifically in Philadelphia, may be going through the wringer, it is safe to say that leaning on grant funded arts agencies is a fantastic way to truncate the inevitable cuts. Call it the silent savior, the unsung hero, or any other worthy quip, but the ArtWell model to approaching arts education very well could sweep disparaging schools right off of their feet.