Arts and the Economy: Why Do Non-Profits Matter?

This summer, HR 1891 made a splash for the House Education and Workforce Committee.  This “Setting New Priorities in Education Spending Act”  would terminate all “wasteful” federal spending that supports the arts and arts education, as well as decreasing 42 other federal education programs. The House Committee noted that despite increased funding, national scores in Math and Science have not improved.  This bill may come to a full House vote soon.

So, why does arts education matter?  What role do non-profit organizations like Arts For All play?

Since the “Great Recession” hit, arts and arts education programs have suffered a major reduction.  Programs have been cut steadily since 2007, especially in New York City.  The Mayor’s office eliminated the direct funding for arts in education in 2008.  The New York Department of Education claims that arts education is a priority, despite funding and personnel cuts.  Approximately 23% of New York public schools have no full- or part-time arts teachers on staff, and funds to hire outside personnel have dropped by over 35% (The Center for Arts Education, 2011).  Though there was an increase in funding to the New York Department of Cultural Affairs in 2011, arts education organizations in New York City are still not receiving enough funding for their programs because the increase did not match the budgets before the 2007 cuts, nor did it offset the funding cuts from the Mayor’s office in the same year.

All schools in the city are becoming in-need schools as programs shrink and disappear.  Many programs offered for young people require funding from the host institution -funding which public schools simply cannot offer.  Even in New York, a city brimming with beloved theatres, museums, cultural centers, music venues, and other arts spaces, many children do not have access to these institutions in or out of school.  That is because of the cost: the cost of a ticket, the cost of the transportation, and the cost of time.   Fewer and fewer New York City students have artistic outlets for creative self-expression and emotional development.

Young people need opportunities to engage with culture and learn audience and art-making skills.  We all remember an artistic moment that wowed us as a child, and made us experience the magic of imagination.  The New York Foundation for the Arts argues that the answer for these losses is to provide creative pathways to learning through an arts curriculum integrated with a well-rounded school curriculum- and Arts For All agrees.

Increasingly, such arts curriculum that is in line with the Common Core Curriculum and Learning Standards is provided by outside organizations, particularly non-profit organizations.  Schools, shelters, and other organizations no longer have the resources to provide artistic programming on their own.  As a result, Arts For All and other non-profits that provide free or low-cost arts services are now getting more requests than ever.  The need for creative exploration, artistic outlets, and aesthetic education has not dissipated; only the support has.

So what role do non-profits play?   Please think back to one moment in your childhood, one moment in school where the arts affected you.  It’s my involvement in the arts as a student that shaped me into who I am today, and I know all of us can think of one time that the arts inspired our learning.

Just last week at Hamilton Heights School, I talked to a little girl as we were breaking down the set of our Audience Project.  She was sitting all alone on one side of the auditorium while the other side was filling up with students.  When I asked her why, she said that this was the side for the bus and the other was the side for going to Big Brothers, Big Sisters.  She no longer attended that after school program.  She also had not had a chance to see our show, because she attended another school in the building.  Her school did not have arts programming for her.

The look in her eyes as she was telling me all that said it all: she wanted a chance to play, to explore, to be a kid with other kids and to be creative.  I could tell she was creative from the way she dressed (and I hope to one day be half as cool as she was – leopard print, hot pink, and furry boots!), but now that she was no longer enrolled in after school, she didn’t have an outlet to explore.

Non-profits like Arts For All provide those outlets. Non-profits like Arts For All engage students in fun learning that is informed by the school curriculum and free at the point of delivery, so that even in this economy all students have a chance to play.

“The job of an educator is to teach students to see the vitality in themselves.” – Joseph Campbell

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  1. […] seems a particularly good time to make our case for arts and for creative learning.  You can read AFA’s November post on nonprofit organizations to learn more about our thoughts on supporting these groups, but today […]

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