Value Arts in Education

Arts education not only inspires and motivates students to enjoy learning. It also supports the creative and critical thinking skills that are so highly valued in today's economy.

Arts education not only inspires and motivates students to enjoy learning. It also supports the creative and critical thinking skills that are so highly valued in today's economy. Yet too often, arts programs in schools are peripheral to academic core subjects and fall victim to policy demands and shrinking budgets.

Engaging Students

Teaching models that integrate the arts with core academic subjects help close the achievement gap2. The presence of a strong arts program is often the very thing needed to help students achieve at higher levels of academic performance. As school districts increasingly look to cut costs, supplemental programming is sometimes the only arts education available to students.

Arts Education in Greater New Haven

The Educational Center for the Arts (ECA) serves 300 high school students with programs in creative writing, dance, music, theater, visual arts from New Haven and 22 surrounding school districts from a building in New Haven's arts district on Audubon Street.

Alice Schilling, the recently retired ECA director, has seen first-hand how arts education reduces the drop-out rate.

"Kids want to be here -- if they dropped out of their sending school they couldn't come. [ECA] motivates them to keep their studies up," she said. "They are problem-solving and working with other people. It's different from regular school because the arts are more engaging and more personal. There's more of a human connection. If I'm baring my soul, you're going to appreciate and accept me for who I am and vice versa."

Young students and Architecture Resource Center volunteers build a structure out of cardboard discs. The volunteer-run nonprofit provides design education workshops to K-12 students. Photo credit: Architecture Resource Center

Many local nonprofits provide supplemental arts education for children through experiential learning opportunities over a wide range of disciplines. The New Haven Symphony, Architecture Resource Center, Shubert Theater, Long Wharf Theater, New Haven Chorale, New Haven Museum, Artspace, and the International Festival all have robust educational programming including internships, fellowships, performances, and workshops for school-aged children with classroom preparation, artists in residence and a variety of other programs.

Hamden's Young Audiences/Arts for Learning is a leader recognized for its training of teachers and teaching artists in integrating arts into the curriculum in line with national core curriculum standards. And, The Elm Shakespeare Company provides in-school residencies that fully realize many components outlined in the Connecticut Framework K-12 Curricular Goals and Standards, as published by the CT State Board of Education for both the Arts guidelines and the Language Arts division.

Music Haven, recently recognized as one of the top 50 after-school arts programs in the country by the President's Committee on Arts, provides tuition-free classical music lessons to children from four high-poverty neighborhoods in New Haven. The Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology (ConnCAT) provides after-school arts programming for a targeted urban youth student population identified as being at risk of dropping out of school. It offers middle and high school students the opportunity to learn digital media and develop spoken word performances. And Shelton's Center Stage, a nonprofit community theater and theater-education studio work with adults and children from third grade up.

"Arts are essential to us as human beings," says president and co-artistic director Fran Scarpa."As we look back at history we learn so much about people from the culture of the time; we use theater arts as a platform for teaching about world history, culture, and artists of different time periods

Thousands of kids of all ages have created small machines and models in the workshop at the Eli Whitney Museum and Workshop.

"What interests me is it's not just arts but that passion for arts and artisanry that there is no sensible training path for. If a kid wants to be an electrician he's relegated to a second-class education. Why don't we have a college for electricians? The impulse that makes an electrician is an artisan impulse rather different from the academic impulse," says long-time director Bill Brown. "We need to change education; there's an aesthetic reward for completing manual projects . . . it takes practical people to make the world go. I think more kids who come through here think outside the box and are more adventurous."

Often, Brown says, some of the smartest kids in school are also the most restless.

"We just don't give enough choices," he says, adding that non-academic choices should include physical disciplines like dance and athletics, but also the visual and musical arts, which he says contribute to happier, more productive adults.

"Art asks you to figure out who you are and what your priorities are," he says.

What The Community Foundation is doing

The Community Foundation provides general operating, programmatic, and sponsorship support for a diversity of art education efforts throughout Greater New Haven. Recent grant recipients include:

  • ConnCAT
  • Music Haven
  • Center Stage
  • The Connecticut Children's Museum Parents and Communities for Kids (PACK)
  • Creative Arts Workshop
  • Eli Whitney Museum
  • Elm City Shakespeare
  • Hamden's Young Audiences/Arts for Learning

Works Cited

1.,2. "Reinvesting in Arts Education: Winning America's Future Through Creative Schools." President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, May 2011.