A new Maryland task force is seeking to create greater awareness of both the benefits of arts education as well as the current state of arts education in the state.
Support for the arts ran high at a recent gathering put on by Governor Martin O’Malley’s P-20 Leadership Council Task Force on Arts Education in Maryland Schools, or AEMS, for leaders in the Baltimore business community, but some were shocked to find out just how disparate access to arts education has become, especially in places like Baltimore City.
Richard Deasy, a former assistant state superintendent in Maryland who for 12 years oversaw a national coalition of arts organizations that has produced social-scientific research on the value of arts education, presented a number of findings.
The arts, Deasy explained, instill capacities that are broadly transferable to other areas of life. For example, imagination, creativity, and innovation are all central to entrepreneurship and thus economic vibrancy.
Deasy told the AFRO that, because public schools have always been training grounds for the support of the American economy, business leaders have significant clout in terms of what ultimately gets taught in schools.
“They are the voices of what the economy needs and they know that they are not happy with the skills that they’re seeing emerging,” said Deasy. “They need to weigh in and not just say to somebody ‘you gotta do this better.’ They have to come in and be part of discussing the solutions . . . since they’re all arguing for creativity.”
While the importance of arts education seemed to be broadly accepted by those present, some in the audience were shocked to find out that some children in Baltimore City schools receive no arts education whatsoever through their middle school years.
Responding to a question from an audience member who asked what it meant to say that some kids in Baltimore City receive “zero art,” Mary Cary, executive director of the AEMS Alliance said, “It means that your child could go to a school and really—elementary through middle—and never have music or dance or theater or visual arts or media arts.”
Maryland requires that students have at least one arts education credit in order to graduate from high school, the only assurance that all Baltimore City youth will have at least some contact with arts education. While there are regulations in the state of Maryland that require arts education at all levels, because many schools do not have arts faculty, the regulations are simply not followed.
For Navasha Daya, a recording artist who founded the Youth Resiliency Institute with her husband; an arts education organization that helps fill the void left by the dearth of arts education in Baltimore public schools and emphasizes culturally relevant arts education, the fact that some kids in the state receive regular arts education while others do not is an equity issue.
“Baltimore is 69 percent Black and the fact that there is no art in certain schools is very unfair and I feel that there needs to be an accountability for regulations in regards to what is required for student’s education, that art is a basic need for all children.”
For Mary Ann Mears, a sculptor, arts advocate, and member of the AEMS task force, it comes down to a school leadership that is invested in the importance of arts education.
“I live in the city and I’m appalled when I see what some kids aren’t getting that they could get,” said Mears. “And we’re a great arts city and we have people who are dying to help and it comes down to whether or not you have a leader in the school building, a principal in the school, who is saying we need the arts, and they hire arts teachers.”