We are officially in March, National YAM, and it couldn't be a better time to speak of art advocacy. President Obama has already taken the first few steps, trying to stabilize public arts education in our schools. Unfortunately, for some of us, it may not be enough. The economy, especially in RI, is not on stable ground. Taxpayers are strapped for cash, and taxes pay for public schools. Cuts are made, and typically the arts are among the first to go. It's tough to put aside your anger at being pink-slipped and put on an art exhibit. It's even tougher to look your students in the eye and tell them that what they are doing in your classroom is so important and appreciated (especially when your program has been sliced in half).
Do you remember why you got into teaching art? I do, and I'm sure you'll agree. It had nothing to do with the hours, the summer breaks, or (certainly not) the pay. It had to do with my love of visual art. My drive to understand how children could learn using visual art, and my desire to see the "Ah-Ha!" moment of a student who just discovered the drawings of MC Escher. These reasons far outweighed the negative politics of public teaching.
Last year, we had an all-time record low number of superintendents endorse YAM. It didn't surprise me, as the economy was looking head-on into a financial disaster, and these superintendents probably figured they would be contradicting themselves to endorse visual art if they had to cut the program a few months later. However, we did have a record number of art educators involved with YAM:
• 222 schools participated in YAM (a 10% increase over 2007) • 18 superintendent endorsements (51%, this is an all-time low) • 31 YAM shows have been documented (a 41% increase over 2007r)
Right now, we only have thirteen shows documented for YAM. Register your show on this website, it's fast and easy.
Not having an art show could be even more detrimental than you think; you could be showing taxpayers, politicians, and students that visual art really doesn't matter in our schools. It's OK to cut visual art because the students don't do anything with it anyway. We all know this isn't true, but it's hard to prove the opposite unless you start showing how art is such a crucial part of our education. Talk to classroom teachers and investigate how you can integrate art into the classroom curriculum. Find a parent who is an artist, make them an artist-in-residence, and have them create a permanent art display for your school. Invite the mayor, school committee, or superintendent to your room for a day. These are simple steps that will remind you how wonderful your job is, and how important it is to fight for it. Or, if anything, it will make you feel good about your hard work and accomplishments. Who knows? Maybe one of those people affected by the wake of your creativity just decided that art is an important part of our schools. Art is the heart of the core curriculum, and when you start with art, you learn for life.