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Arts education

Sept. 9-15 marks National Arts in Education Week, a celebration designated by Congress and led by Americans for the Arts, the nation’s leading arts advocacy group.

This week recognizes the transformative power of the arts in education in order to bring attention to citizens, elected officials and educational decision-makers the importance of this cause, and to support equitable access to the arts for all students.

Here in Missoula, SPARK! – Arts Ignite Learning is hosting a series of events and activities to highlight the week. These include making art at this past Sunday Streets Missoula, the opening of the Monster Project at Zootown Arts Community Center, the School stARTS pARTy at MCT Center for the Performing Arts, and other related activities. All information can be found at www.sparkartslearning.org.

SPARK! is Missoula’s chapter of the John F. Kennedy Center’s Any Given Child initiative, a program to assist communities in developing and implementing expanded arts education in their schools, ensuring access and equity for all students. Just to be clear, the Kennedy Center does not give Missoula a big check, but rather aids in workshops, research and community planning.

Since 2013, SPARK! has succeeded as a collaborative effort of Missoula County Public Schools, the City of Missoula, the College of Visual & Performing Arts at the University of Montana, the Dennis & Phyllis Washington Foundation, Logjam Presents, Arts Missoula, and numerous other artists, organizations, businesses and foundations. The main thrust of the program is to provide more arts experiences for students, and to integrate the arts into the classroom, using the creative arts to teach core subjects such as math, science, language arts and social studies. This initiative has also provided ongoing professional development for classroom teachers and teaching artists.

Why is all this important? There are many reasons, but here are three:

1. Arts in Education strengthens academic achievement. The research is clear: youth who participate in the arts are more likely to be successful in school, college, and career than their peers who did not have arts education. This is particularly true for children of low-income families, and thus equity and access for all students is a necessary component.

2. Arts in Education makes for a better school experience. There is additional research showing the benefits of arts education on entire school culture, especially student motivation, attitudes, and attendance. 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.

3. Arts in Education can lead to better employment opportunities after graduation. Nationally, the arts industry represents 4.2 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP), ahead of construction, transportation and mining. Here in Montana, 2,508 arts-related businesses employ 8,995 people. These businesses and the creative people they employ stimulate innovation, strengthen our competitiveness in the global marketplace, and play an important role in building and sustaining our economy (www.americansforthearts.org).

Arts in Education has powerful economic implications beyond this last point. A community that invests in itself through the arts becomes more attractive to businesses and individuals looking to relocate. This leads to more residents, who buy homes, pay taxes, send their children to schools and contribute to our local economy. It’s no coincidence that Missoula — with a lively arts scene and a surge in building construction — has recently been ranked No. 10 for mid-sized cities in the National Arts Vibrancy Index compiled by the National Council for Arts Research. 

Please join us in celebrating Arts in Education Week. Quite simply, the arts are beneficial for our schools, for student retention and success, for future employment and for economic development.

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This opinion is signed by Sienna Solberg of SPARK! – Arts Ignite Learning, Tom Bensen of Arts Missoula, Robin Checota of Logjam Presents; Mike Halligan of the Dennis & Phyllis Washington Foundation, Stephen Kalm and Karen Kaufmann of the University of Montana College of Visual & Performing Arts, and Julie Robitaille of Missoula County Public Schools.

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