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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Friday, April 19, 2024

Creative Currency: The politics of supporting arts education in public schools

Arts education serves as a foundation for the development of creativity and expression in an overwhelming world.

Materials from the 2022 Tufts Art Datathon are pictured.

Materials from the 2022 Tufts Art Datathon are pictured.

In the American school system, it is easy to notice the emphasis placed on ‘traditional’ subjects: math, English, science, history and language. Of course, there’s a decent number of people that will continue to study these fields throughout their lives and careers, but what about those that are passionate about art or music? Does public education often disregard these paths, and is there more value to arts education than federal funding currently supports?

There are many benefits to arts education that help us socially, emotionally and personally, which can often be put to the side in favor of other subjects. The arts build communities that other subjects often do not; they enable the expression of creativity that can help others connect with one another, whether on specific personal issues or a number of political and societal themes. Arts education is known to improve childrens’ attitudes towards school in general, building a foundation for self-confidence and increased awareness when they are introduced to expressing themselves. Furthermore, arts education also supplements knowledge in disciplines such as English and mathematics, enabling students to connect these subjects in ways that can enrich their understanding on a more profound level. 

Out of a series of recent developments in the push for federal funding, the most notable example is Proposition 28, a groundbreaking initiative that ensures funding for arts programs in California public schools. The program is worth approximately $1 billion and serves as the largest investment initiative in arts and music education in U.S. history. However, despite the program being a pivotal step forward, it’s uncertain whether it will be able to reverse the effects of arts education defunding in recent years. 

Even though California legislators were able to recognize the importance of maintaining arts education, the rest of the United States appears to be struggling with finding opportunities for government funding for it. This is especially true in the case of Eric Adams, mayor of New York City, who cut school funding by over $200 million in 2022 and made arts education one of the first targets for budget cuts. In Massachusetts, funding for arts education primarily appears in the form of grants. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education uses the Arts & Culture Vitality Index, a state-wide program in Massachusetts that gives schools the opportunity to assess their artistic and cultural programs, to determine whether certain public schools need improvements in arts and music education. Additionally, the National Endowment for the Arts has distributed $31,905,028 in federal grants specifically to Massachusetts over the past five years. Although the state-specific grants are undoubtedly helpful in pushing for developments in the accessibility of arts education, federal funding provides more stability in terms of minimizing disparities in arts education access and equalizing opportunities for students of all economic and academic backgrounds.

In the case of children that struggle with academic or personal problems, the arts can often be a lifeline. Under-resourced communities rarely receive proper funding for arts programs, and these are the communities that should frankly receive the most. Proposition 28 is a step forward for federally-funded initiatives but is limited to California. With arts education, community engagement and innovation expand in ways that contribute to the growth of well-rounded education and the wellbeing of society.