Integrating the arts in education

UK magazine Arts Professional has published an interesting article on the results of a report that urges Wales to integrate arts throughout the school curriculum.  Commissioned by the Welsh government and conducted by the Arts Council of Wales, the report claims that a creativity-focused curriculum will provide better results for education than the current emphasis on reading and mathematics.  Says Arts Council of Wales’ Chair Professor Dai Smith: “That the arts may be the game-changer in our current educational practice will seem counterintuitive to some, but the evidence is, I believe, compelling… We must, if we are to succeed economically and thrive socially, ground a quality education in both creativity as practice and culture as knowledge.”

This comes as promising news to those of us who believe that the arts do, indeed have potential to be a stronger partner in educational curriculum.  It also, not surprisingly, has  raised some questions from both teachers and artists.  According to the article, one of the primary objections to the proposals are from teachers, who fear that they do not have the training to incorporate more arts and creative activities into their teaching.  Most of them are probably right — most education students are not required to take enough arts courses in college to provide more than a cursory knowledge of the arts.

Some artists are also questioning the notion of using arts and creativity as a tool to increase competency in other subjects.  Why can’t the arts be offered for their sake alone?  they ask.  Why is the only value to be found in the arts that they help students learn reading and math?

I certainly understand the fear of artists that arts might be reduced to a tool — particularly a tool that is society’s latest fad geared to “prepare students for the workforce.”  Are the arts only good if they help create wealth?  Many artists would argue that the arts are most satisfying when they fall outside the commercial realm, and indeed, much of what we call “fine arts” is organized into not-for-profit systems intended to protect the art against the whims of the marketplace.

But I am equally opposed to increasing arts education if it continues to marginalize the arts and focus education on performance and creation.  This approach assumes that the only valid interaction in the arts is learning to play an instrument or paint — and by high school, most students who don’t evince an immediate passion or talent for the arts have given it up long since.

The arts should be integrated into every part of our lives — not because businesses need creative people, although they do — but because art is part of life and not separate from it.  Those of us in the arts cannot continue to insist that the arts remain so pure that only the most talented, educated or wealthy may apply.  To do so will only continue to ensure that we ARE marginalized, and that in the absence of opportunities to do otherwise, people will seek out reality television and twerking rock stars.

Photo credit: Steven Barber

Photo credit: Steven Barber

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About Ellen Rosewall

I am Professor and Chair of Arts Management and author of Arts Management: Uniting Arts and Audiences in the 21st Century (Oxford University Press, 2013). I believe that arts and culture are undergoing a profound change in the 21st century, and I love talking with people about how we continue to bring arts to our communities and individuals give the brave new world of social media, technology and economic changes. Join the conversation!
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One Response to Integrating the arts in education

  1. Most interesting to hear what is going on in the UK. Too many schools here in the US are eliminating arts curriculum as cost cutting measures. This saddens me. For some students the arts (painting, sculpting, instrumental & choral music, and theatre) is their only opportunity to learn about and express their creative possibilities and is the primary reason for staying in school and continuing their education.

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