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Arts in Missoula

Kayden Richards, 9, works on a piece of clay as Paris Summers helps him run the wheel at one of the Missoula Clay Studio tents in the arts section of the River City Roots Festival.

As we enter yet another school year, we take time to reflect on the role of arts education in our lives and how it has contributed to making us the people we are today. The research is undeniable: when schools and communities embrace the arts — dance, music, theatre, visual and media arts — students benefit, educators are more effective and learning communities are revolutionized.

Designated by Congress in 2010, National Arts in Education Week is a celebration of the transformative power of the arts in education. This year, we will be celebrating in Missoula from Sept. 8-14, and we encourage all supporters of arts, culture and education — as well as our elected officials and education leaders — to join with us!

As we have seen in the news lately, our country, our state and our community are facing challenges unlike any we have seen before. When intertwining the arts in and through education, research shows that we are better preparing our future leaders to overcome these challenges. According to a decades-long study, students who participate in the arts during their early school years are more likely to be civically engaged than their peers who did not have arts education; meaning, they are more likely to vote, more likely to volunteer in their community and more likely to sit on the board of a non-profit organization as an adult. Similarly, we know that when schools are arts-rich, educators are more interested in their work and believe they are more equipped of teaching critical thinking skills.

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Additionally, we know that the arts have the power to SPARK! imagination, ignite innovation, and excite and transform learning. The arts can be used to reach all types of learners. For over a decade, states and communities across the nation have been using the arts as an intervention and extension in lower-economic schools to great success. Additionally, data shows that English language learners, students with intellectual and developmental disabilities and students facing school discipline benefit greatly from arts learning. The arts are also a way to bridge cultural differences. Acceptance of diversity and cultural differences is most effective when introduced in early education. Through the arts in classrooms, we become more aware, receptive and accepting of other cultures.

Here in Missoula, we have been fortunate to participate in the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ Any Given Child initiative, locally called SPARK! Arts Ignite Learning. SPARK! Arts is a program of Arts Missoula, and a city-wide partnership that includes the City of Missoula, the Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation, Logjam Foundation, Missoula County Public Schools, the University of Montana College of the Arts and Media, and numerous local artists and arts organizations. These partners all collaborate in this collective impact project to ensure equal access to the arts for our students. Now in its fifth year, SPARK! Arts reaches every student in every Missoula County Public Schools K-8 classroom. The arts are for every child, and all children in Missoula County Public Schools get to experience the benefits of the arts.

Please help us celebrate Missoula’s collective impact work in arts education this week, and participate in a community event with arts demos around downtown Missoula on Saturday, Sept. 14, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. To learn more about this event or how you can join our effort to increase arts education, visit www.sparkartslearning.org.

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This opinion is signed by Sienna Solberg, SPARK! Arts Ignite Learning; Tom Bensen, Arts Missoula; Mirtha Becerra, Missoula City Council; Robin Checota, Logjam Foundation; John DeBoer, University of Montana College of the Arts and Media; Mike Halligan, Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation; and Julie Robitaille, Missoula County Public Schools.

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