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This year National Arts Education Week falls on Sept. 8–14. Passed by Congress in 2010 through House Resolution 275, NAEW happens annually beginning with the second Sunday of September and is designed to bring attention to and tell the story of the transformative power of the arts in education.

We live in an interesting time, when creativity is one of the most in-demand 21st century skills, yet it is not so valued in our education system. The level of arts education in our schools has been declining since the 1980s, and funding to the National Endowment for the Arts is consistently on the chopping block despite the fact that it makes up only 0.0004% of all federal spending.

There are many different ways to learn and sometimes the greatest benefit of education is what it is able to draw out of someone, not what it puts in. At the Zootown Arts Community Center (ZACC), we have the opportunity to witness the transformative power of arts education daily. Over 350 kids attended our summer camps this year. And while they learned everything from songwriting, performing, painting, felting, ceramics, comics and playwriting, they also learned powerful lessons about themselves.

The arts require us to look within and share some of ourselves with others, naturally pushing us toward deeper relationships. Making things together in camp requires a rich sense of support and collaboration, essential components to community building. Parents report a significant increase in their child’s self-confidence and willingness to try new things after art camp at the ZACC.

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The arts teach us how to communicate across generations, socio-economic barriers and belief systems. They help us get to the heart of our humanity, find ways to communicate when language fails us, and learn ways to heal. And if that’s not enough, studies show that there is a direct correlation between arts education and improved scores in math, science and writing. Access to the arts should not be considered a luxury, but a basic human right, and arts education should be central to the development of all children and to ongoing creative engagement for people of all ages.

Please join me in celebrating the transformative power of the arts in education this week by supporting local initiatives that increase our town’s access to arts education. SPARK! (Arts Ignite Learning), a community-wide partnership that has been working to expand arts programming in Missoula County Public Schools since 2015, will be hosting a free event with arts demos around downtown Missoula on Saturday, Sept. 14, from 9 a.m.-1 p.m.

And please support the ZACC’s move downtown this fall. The new ZACC will provide easier access to arts education with a downtown location on the bus line and an ADA-compliant building. It will provide more studio space for local artists, galleries for adults and youth, an interactive youth exploration center, an all-ages performing arts center, multiple classrooms and conference space, a thoughtfully designed music school and recording center, a large community print shop, a free community art supply closet and a paint-your-own-pottery studio.

We live in a time that requires us to reach beyond our current situation and come up with creative solutions, so let’s start by giving Missoula a new space that values our collective creative potential. With the new ZACC, Missoula will have an amazing space that will empower our community’s creative voices. We have currently raised $80,000 toward a $200,000 challenge grant from the MJ Murdock Charitable Trust. With your help, we can raise the remaining $120,000, and complete a project that will benefit all of Missoula for generations to come.

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Kia Liszak is executive director of the Zootown Arts Community Center.

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