The Battle for Arts in Schools Is a Battle, Consumers Can't Afford to Lose

The research supporting the need for Arts within an educational system is uncontroversial. Study upon study confirms that kids exposed to the Arts within their school do better academically and emotionally. In fact, here is a handy list of "10 lessons the Arts teach" from the book, The Arts and the Creation of Mind to remind us of the power of Arts to kids:

1. The Arts teach children to make good judgments about qualitative relationships unlike other subjects which emphasize correct answers and rules prevail.
2. The Arts teach children that problems can have more than one solution.
3. The Arts celebrate multiple perspectives and the many ways to see and interpret the world.
4. The Arts teach children that in complex forms of problem solving requires the ability and a willingness to surrender to the unanticipated possibilities of the work as it unfolds.
5. The Arts make vivid the fact that neither words in their literal form nor numbers exhaust what we can know.
6. The Arts teach students that small differences can have large effects.
7. The Arts teach students to think through and within a material.
8. The Arts help children learn to say what cannot be said.
9. The Arts enable us to have experience we can have from no other source.
10. The Arts' position in the school curriculum symbolizes to the young what adults believe is important.

The importance of Arts to the young mind is not in debate. Yet consistently, whenever budgets get tight -- the Arts programs -- across the board get squeezed first and more brutally than other line items. No one talks about cuts to the "math" curriculum in schools -- but slashing every Arts program is routine.

I kept turning this over in my mind as I was sitting at a benefit luncheon for the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation.

This is an organization started in 1995, by brothers Russell, Danny and Joseph Simmons, dedicated to providing urban youth with access and exposure to the Arts. Their range of programs is truly breathtaking -- ranging from providing artists in residence to inner city schools to creating a gallery where kids can showcase and monetize their artistic creations. This luncheon was designed to help raise funds for this foundation.

As I watched people like Mayor Bloomberg, Soledad O'Brien, Russell Simmons, Kelly Rutherfood and STAR JONES go on stage and reinforce the importance of the foundation's work, the puzzle deepened. As I read in the program guide that many prestigious companies like Charity Buzz, JPMorgan, Sun Capital Partners and Anheuser-Busch have lent their support to their cause, this disconnect became incomprehensible. Everyone there singularly talked about the importance of Arts in the schools and yet it was so often first on the budget chopping block.

The mystery seemed impenetrable until I started to marvel at the wonderfully diverse art displayed at the luncheon from all sorts of kids and all sorts of backgrounds. That's when I understood the answer.

From every angle, these pieces were pure expression unshackled by grades or answers or "correct-ness". They were snapshots of creative form that elicited as diverse a response from viewers as the fertile young minds that created them. And in the wonderful riot of their art -- I realized these works could never be standardized, categorized or scored. This type of art could never conform to an easily applied set standards and performance metrics; a basic requirement in the business of running a "mass production" school system. In short, Arts could never conform to a set of performance milestones that bureaucracies require. This is why Arts are an easy target -- the quintessential "round peg/ square hole" situation.

Now that we understand what's going on -- all us "Judy Consumers" can be more effective at taking matters into our own hands to compensate for this operational disconnect. We know intimately that Arts education is not an option -- but a requirement. The only question is what we go about it.

Which brings me back to the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation. This organization understands that it is within the nurturing soil of "community" that allows kids to express the full range of their brilliance. With the right tools and resources, communities of "Judy Consumers" can be unleashed to encourage and support our kids' artistic explorations. This is a lesson Russell Simmons learned early at a particularly low moment in his career: "I remember sitting outside and my mother coming out. She gave me start me over again. It was a tremendous push, because it wasn't the money, it was the belief in my future."

Ultimately, programs like the Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation give the Arts the space they need to do their magic without ever having to behave like the square peg of today's educational system. It is these organizations that give communities and "Judy Consumer" the tools and resources so we can take it from there. Our gratitude knows no bounds.

That's why we won't lose this battle -- failure is simply not an option.