Arts budget cuts called short-sighted

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Capital News Service
LANSING — Art and music may not seem essential in schools’ academic achievement.
Rather they’re considered costly extras and, thus, prime prospects for elimination when schools face increased budget cuts, according to studies.
But the arts do more than invigorate the economy — they strengthen children’s cognitive development and enhance learning through increased hands-on, creative thinking, according to a presentation at an arts and culture forum in Lansing.
“Children motivated by the arts develop attention skills and strategies for memory retrieval that also apply to other academic subject areas, such as math and science,” said Kenneth Fischer, president of the University Musical Society, a performing arts group affiliated with the University of Michigan.
Fischer also said the arts – music, creative writing, drawing and dance – provide the critical thinking and problem-solving skills required by employers, citing a report by the Conference Board, a business performance research association in New York City.
“One of the top-five applied skills sought by employers in today’s market is creativity, and we need to embrace the arts which are the indicators of innovation and ingenuity,” he said.
But budget cuts are limiting the variety of art education programs offered by schools and institutions, such as the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, which coordinates state grants.
John Bracey, the council’s executive director, said that while state appropriations for art school projects fell from $26 million in 2006 to $2 million this year, the council is working harder to ensure that schoolchildren are exposed to the “transformative” life experiences created by the arts.
Among successful projects is the year-old school bus grant that awards up to $500 in gas money for educational arts and culture trips, Bracey said.
This month, the council announced the approval of $43,878 in such grants to 118 schools to support trips for more than 13,000 students across the state.
“If schools’ budgets have been cut to the point where our arts and cultural learning is diminishing, somebody has to step up to the plate and offer something,” Bracey said.  “These are experiences that make our children’s lives as fulfilled as can be — they complete a child’s growth and development.”
Although academic priority goes to core curriculum subjects like the sciences, Bracey said exposure to arts and culture lays the foundation for the focus and critical thinking needed in such studies.
“Some of the most successful engineers or doctors are going to have, somewhere in their education, participated in theater or school bands or played musical instruments,” he said.
Fischer’s presentation at the forum cited studies that reveal high performance among students who consistently participate in the arts.
For instance, researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, found that students who play musical instruments have higher math test scores than those without musical involvement.
Studies also show that students with an education rich in the arts have higher GPAs and standardized test scores, lower drop-out rates and even better civic engagement.
The decision by some districts to eliminate art programs is creating a public outcry, said Mike Latvis, director of public policy at ArtServe, a Wixom-based statewide art education advocacy group.
Last year, the group received more than 30 phone calls from concerned teachers and parents complaining about the elimination of art programs in their children’s schools.
Latvis said that his organization is working towards legislation to stop the elimination of essential art programs.
Currrent law gives districts authority to choose how to spend their dollars, according to State Sen. Howard Walker, R-Traverse City, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for K-12 Education.
Kathleen Hubbard has taught visual and fine arts for 19 years and said that with a reduced art education budget, she has become more innovative by recycling materials into projects.
Hubbard, who teaches at Thunder Bay Junior High School in Alpena, said she has witnessed the “wonderful’ breakthroughs” that art subjects have on students with cognitive or emotional impairments.
She was the 2006 winner of a Michigan Association of School Boards award for creating a humanities course that incorporates seven fine arts subjects.
“I believe art humanities should be a requirement because that’s what develops a whole person,” she said.  “When districts reduce the budget to fine arts, the cost to the students is higher than what they are going to save.”
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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