Hello | On Arts Education.
I just discovered this website today, which is a blessing because I have been feeling like I need to set more time aside for writing and creative endeavors in my life. It already feels like an adult Tumblr. Thank goodness for that.
Here’s the summary of who I am: I am 21 years old. I am originally from Massachusetts, but I currently live in Austin, Texas. I study at The University of Texas at Austin in the College of Fine Arts, where I am (so!!) close to finishing my degree in B.F.A Theatre Studies.
Here’s who I want to be: I want to be a teaching artist. A teaching artist is an arts educator, but the term is used in the performing arts education world to rid the stigma that comes with the field. Many times, people believe that an artist becomes a teacher when all else has failed in their creative endeavors. Surprise! Artists actually chose education themselves, because they want to share the critical need for arts with the creators of tomorrow. I am one of them.
My future will bring me back to Boston, post-graduation, where I plan on pursuing my Master’s in…something. While Austin has been an amazing experience and has changed my life for the better, there is simply no other place like home. Family, friends, and the most unwavering love I have ever known resides there.
I don’t really know what this will be yet. I have noticed myself recently observing and analyzing the world around me at a much faster pace than usual. Perhaps it is this current political climate, but I have found myself questioning things I see, behaviors I witness, and people I come across. Usually, I store this information on the shelves in my brain, in tiny boxes where they can be accessed by nobody but me.
I used to really enjoy writing. I used to write all the time. Then, it became a source of constant anxiety; like I felt my writing was never good enough. But it is crucial that we continuing sharing our thoughts and ideas in public, even if nobody is going to read them. Saying and writing things aloud brings them into existence, and it makes everything feel slightly better in a second.
I highly doubt anyone will be reading what I have to write, and that’s okay. My writing has always really been for me, anyways. I wonder what would happen if I decided to write every day.
I was told today that a teaching artist is not creative, nor is it a viable career choice.
This, naturally, was heartbreaking, because I study arts education, and will make a living off of it someday.
But perhaps what was more heartbreaking was the idea that we, as artists, are continually and repeatedly told that we are not taken seriously. We are told that a fine arts career is a waste of time and money. In this money-centric, exhausting rat race we have set up in this country, arts simply has no place.
I’ve been involved in the arts since I was four years old. That’s seventeen years of my life. I have heard it all before; people love to speak upon subjects they know little about. But when I hear people say these detrimental things about the arts, my heart hurts for our future.
President Obama set up a task force called the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. A study was done within the task force outlining the benefits of not only arts education, but arts-integrated education, and how students benefit cognitively and emotionally when they are studying something creative. The study also explained how at-risk students are more likely to succeed under an arts curriculum.
And now, we have a president who is rumored to be cutting the National Endowment for the Arts, a program that rewards grants for artists to pursue their creative projects.
We experience art, in some capacity, every single day, whether we know it or not. The advertisements on buildings, the operating system design on our computers; they were all made by creatives. Our world would not exist without the presence of the arts. Hell, even the NFL is an art.
To hear someone tell me my career is stagnant, and will have no upward mobility, is certainly disappointing. But it is not nearly as disappointing to arts students, who have been told by this current administration that arts funding is not of importance to them, and they will not be a champion to the arts.
We know that the arts are an expensive pursuit, and many children do not have access to it. Arts education, historically, has been a privileged endeavor. The teaching artists guiding the next generation of students have to be prepared to combat the inequality. We have to armor our students against the critics who think arts are just a hobby for everyone, and that the government should not have a stake in it.
I ask those critics to turn off their radios, throw out their televisions, and stop paying for that Netflix subscription. When you don’t treat the arts with respect, you don’t get to indulge in its fruits at a later time. When you believe that arts students are not worthy of respect for the education they seek out, you don’t get to join in on the action when it is convenient for you.
I have been given many opportunities to teach the arts throughout the last few years. I have found that as I develop my teaching methods and practices, two cornerstones always remain. One: treat everyone with respect and kindness, even if you don’t care for them or want to. Two: the classroom is a safe space for expression, exploration, and discovery. Treat it as such.
If only President Trump could hear those words, too.