The arts are slowly but surely reappearing in school curricula across L.A. County, thanks in large part to an initiative called Arts For All. Launched in 2002 by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the organization is helmed by Director Denise Grande, a passionate advocate for including the arts, from visual to performing, in K-12 education. Grande explains exactly what Arts For All is, and how it works.
What is the current state of the arts in school curricula?
There is a misperception that the arts are not thriving in our schools. There is so much great work happening in many of L.A. County’s school districts. There are principals that are champions, teachers that go above and beyond, and superintendents that understand the importance of the arts.
Tell us a little about Arts For All.
Just like English and math, we believe that the arts are core to every child’s development. When a school district joins Arts For All, the first thing we do is help them formulate a community arts team, which crafts a local policy and then a strategic plan around arts education. We spend time identifying what they believe their young people should be provided with in terms of the arts, and then craft a plan to make that happen over three to five years. And we have a website that offers a directory of cultural institutions and teaching artists who work in schools.
We also pay a lot of attention to data collection. It was data collected by Arts For All in 2009 that shown a light on the fact that students from lower socioeconomic communities have less access to arts education than their peers in higher socioeconomic areas of the county.
How can parents advocate for the arts in schools?
Talk to your school-board members. They make the policy decisions. But if a parent does not know the school-board members, they should find out what is happening in their own school. Tell the principal how important it is for their child to be exposed to the arts. Parents should support arts events in the schools, volunteer for the arts in the schools, and take their child to free arts events around the county. A parent can also talk to their PTA president, if the school has a PTA group.
Another good resource is Arts For LA, which is our advocacy partner. Their website is www.artsforla.org.
If Arts For All is not in their district, how can parents advocate for it?
We take on an average of five new school districts a year, and it’s based on a school district’s interest. In this time of increased money for schools, districts are being called upon to include more parent voices in the decision-making process of how these dollars are going to be spent. Become part of the teams that are informing your district.
What are the long-term benefits of an arts education for our children?
Recently, Thomas Sudhoff, the winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine, was asked to name his most influential teacher. He gave credit to his bassoon teacher, who taught him that “the only way to do something right is to practice and listen and practice and listen, hours, and hours, and hours.” He was asked how that connected to science, and he said, “It’s basically the same thing. You need to know something really well. You need to have the attention span and focus to delve deep into that subject area.”
An arts education is not just to create future artists. It’s providing foundational skills that all of us need, no matter what industry we decide to go into.