A note from the former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts that sums up a lot of how I feel. If it wasn’t for the arts, I would never be able to understand or express my gifts. Please read this short note:
“Art works.” I have been saying that ever since I was sworn in as chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, and it remains an absolute truth. Over these past three years, I have been fascinated to engage with our Office of Research & Analysis staff as they dig into the questions of “on whom” and “in what ways.”
Having the arts in young people’s lives is essential; we know that intuitively. Parents sing to their babies, dance with their toddlers, and occupy children with crayons and paper. And there was a time in this country when schools did their parts: bands, choruses, theatricals, and art studios used to fill the days along- side the 3 Rs, gym, social studies, science, and the rest.
But over the past four decades, budget pressures and an increasing focus on just reading and math have crowded the arts out of too many school days. What’s lost? The chance for a child to express himself. The chance for the idiosyncratic child who has not yet succeeded elsewhere to shine. A sense of play, of fun, of discovery.
James Catterall and his fellow authors have shown that something else is lost, too: potential. Students who have arts-rich experiences in school do better across-the-board academically, and they also become more active and engaged citizens, voting, volunteering, and generally participating at higher rates than their peers.
This report is quick to caution that it does not make the case for a causal relationship between the arts and these outcomes, but as a non-researcher, I have no hesitation about drawing my own conclusions.
I firmly believe that when a school delivers the complete education to which every child is entitled— an education that very much includes the arts—the whole child blossoms.
I believe that the only outcomes we should need to measure for a music class is whether the child had the chance to create, enjoy, and understand music. But as the arts are forced to compete for scarce resources, there is no harm in pointing out once again that an investment in the arts will pay extensive dividends.
Art works. Let’s make sure it works for our country’s students.