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Why does an arts education matter?

Students and statistics, alike, point to the soaring benefits of access to arts classes.

By Jess Bellville

Video stories by Bobby Edwards

Imagine a world without access to arts education, without those opportunities in school to unleash the full power of creative drive to stage a play, to learn the intricacies of playing the glockenspiel in music class, to construct piñatas out of papier-mâché and plastic jugs. Imagine all the years you spent in school suddenly stripped of those moments of self-expression. Whether or not your career plans directly involved a path in the arts, those opportunities for creativity, problem solving and communication have perhaps had a far greater influence on your life than you may realize.

And yet, arts education in the U.S. has faced attacks from all directions, particularly since the 2008 recession, which challenged 80 percent of the country's schools to slash budgets. At the same time, No Child Left Behind and the Common Core State Standards pushed educators to prioritize science and math over other subjects - and since the arts were not considered "testable," many schools cut arts programming altogether. The facts and figures of this chapter in American education are startling: Between 2008 and 2012, one-third of arts educators were laid off in Los Angeles County. For almost one-half of America's kindergarten through 5th grade students, arts classes disappeared entirely. Even by 2015, only 26 percent of African-American students in the U.S. had access to arts classes.

In Minnesota, we've fared better than most states because state law has required the availability of arts education to all students for the better part of two decades. But because there is a relatively new requirement for schools in Minnesota to report the number of arts courses they offer, many schools still struggle to be compliant, making it difficult to fully understand students' access to arts education.

No doubt, there is a slew of compelling statistics that paint a more complex portrait of arts education in America and in Minnesota:

93 percent of Americans report that they believe the arts are an important part of a well-rounded education.

Low-income students who are highly engaged in the arts are more than twice as likely to graduate from college as their peers with no arts education.

72 percent of business leaders report that creativity is the number one skill they seek in their recruiting efforts, while 85 percent of them also say that they can't find the creative applicants that they seek.

Students who take four years of arts and music classes in high school average almost 100 points higher on their SAT scores than students who take only a half year or less.

In 2008, African-American and Hispanic students had less than half of the access to arts education than their White peers.

In Minnesota schools that reported their arts education offerings, access to arts and music programs is lower for students in schools where more than 75 percent of students receive free/reduced-price lunch when compared to other students. Also, non-reporting schools are most likely to be located where more than 75 percent of students receive free/reduced-price lunch.

But perhaps the most compelling argument for the importance of arts education comes from students who have had the opportunity to focus on creative pursuits. Six students at Perpich Arts High School, which opened its doors in 1989 and offers a tuition-free education to 11th and 12th graders, explain how an arts-focused education has benefitted them most.

Olivia Seone Stern - Visual Arts


"Having class-long discussions about critiques of people's art work is really beneficial to how students here develop as artists - and just giving that chance to reflect and acknowledge mistakes or positive aspects in art is work is really helpful." - Olivia Seone Stern

Anna Miller - Dance


"Coming to Perpich, the teachers here, they're like, 'This is what you can do.' And then you do it, and they ask you how you feel. They ask you questions, and then you ask questions back, like 'Why are we doing this?' [This helps you] get a deeper understanding of what you're learning and what you're doing and why you do it. It allows you to grow as a dancer and to figure out who you are and your own voice." - Anna Miller

Lin Xiong - Music


"I feel like I've been taught by my art teachers to be professional and to really just know that music theory can really help you, especially in improvisation - and if you want to be a great musician, not only do you need to be educated in music theory, but you also to also be a good person, too, so people would actually want to work with you." - Lin Xiong

Trent Ramert - Theater


"From the moment we came, it was almost like stepping onto a college campus where there was this emphasis on independence and finding your own self, but also training in both academics and in becoming an artist. It was somewhere where I really saw myself." - Trent Ramert

Charlie Kelley-Pegg - Literary Arts


"One of the really big things we learn in literary arts is how to write unapologetically and write organically and write stream-of-consciousness and whatever comes to our heads. And I think once you allow yourself to think the things that you are thinking, feel the things that you're feeling, it allows you to expand into this big, whole thing. I use a lot of my art to navigate through my own queer and trans identity, my LatinX identity, just identity with coming of age, i think that identity is fostered just about every which way here." - Charlie Kelley-Pegg

Alexandra Alvarado - Media Arts


"I chose art school because it's a good place to fully grow as an artist, especially if you want to go into that after high school. but even if you didn't want a career as an artist, it still really strengthens you in all artistic aspects and in thinking about art conceptually, even business-wise as well - like the business of your own art and putting yourself out there and branding yourself." - Alexandra Alvarado

Twin Cities PBS teamed up with the Perpich Arts High School to bring you this story about the benefits of arts education in the classroom, in the studio and beyond. 

Jess Bellville Read More
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