Sept. 13-19 marks National Arts in Education Week, a celebration designated by Congress and led by Americans for the Arts. This week recognizes the transformative power of the arts in education and to support equitable access to the arts for all students.
The arts SPARK! imagination, ignite innovation and excite learning. They increase students’ collaboration and communication skills, as well as provide opportunities to critically think about our world. The arts help students become successful adults by building the skills we seek in leaders.
As we enter this unprecedented school year, we reflect about the importance of arts education differently than in previous years. In this unparalleled time, the arts are more important than ever. With all the uncertainty and tragedy, the arts provide not just a creative outlet, but are also vital to our social and emotional health. Therefore, the arts are critical to schools as we learn to adapt to the new world. Through art activities, we become more self-aware, gain self-confidence and perseverance. As we emerge from the trauma and brutality of the world, we turn to the arts to process and understand, express emotions, grieve, share and connect to each other, and heal. Now, more than ever, it is imperative that the arts are at the core of education.
Uncharted territory causes uncertainty, but it can also provide opportunity for creativity to thrive. This year, the Missoula arts education community was quick to creatively pivot programming to continue to reach children. Missoula County Public Schools (MCPS) arts educators found ways to engage students with drive through art supply pickups, virtual choir performances for graduation, quarantine raps, and increased elementary visual art lessons; The Clay Studio of Missoula created online lessons and clay kits; MCT’s Playdate inspired families across the country to produce a play at home; Missoula Writing Collaborative created a Cabin Fever Survival Guide with kids’ poetry activities; Montana Repertory Theatre transformed their Educational OutReach play, Zombie Thoughts, to screen at Ogren Field; SPARK! Arts teaching artists created social-emotional arts resources for students, teachers and families, and collaborated with MCPS to distribute 775 art kits; Tell Us Something created online storytelling workshops; Turning the Wheel hosted virtual movement events to support social-emotional health; and ZACC recruited Kindergarten Monster Makers to continue their Missoula Monster Project tradition. Creativity continues this fall while Big Sky Film Institute partners with Indian Education Specialists and Indigenous filmmakers to debut an online documentary filmmaking course; MAM’s Museum as Megaphone allows students to visit and interact with the museum virtually; and The Roxy will turn Kiddomatic into a virtual children’s film festival in November.
We are fortunate to be part of a community that embraces the arts and understands their importance to students’ education. Missoula has been named Best Communities for Music Education due to the vibrant MCPS music education program. This year, MCPS hired another elementary visual art teacher to increase visual arts access. In 2013, the Kennedy Center named Missoula a partner site for their Any Given Child initiative, locally named SPARK! Arts Ignite Learning. SPARK! Arts is a collective impact administered through Arts Missoula, and partners with City of Missoula, Dennis and Phyllis Washington Foundation, Logjam Foundation, UM College of the Arts and Media, and numerous local artists and arts organizations to work hand-in-hand with MCPS Fine Arts Department to ensure equal access to the arts.
These are challenging times. Yet, there is no doubt that the unifying power of the arts will prevail and carry us forward, through the uncertainty to a brighter world. Especially, here in Missoula, Montana, because #weARTinthistogether.
Tom Bensen is executive director of Arts Missoula and Sienna Solberg is director of SPARK! Arts Ignite Learning.