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Café McMullen

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Arts Education: Why Is It Important?

Posted: 04/13/2012 11:05 am

My name is Café McMullen and I am the program director at the Fernando Pullum Community Arts Center in Leimert Park, Calif. We offer free performing arts classes (dance, guitar, piano, jazz band, filmmaking, and music recording) to elementary, middle and high school students. Daily I am reminded about how important the arts are and of the struggle to keep them as a part of our student's lives. The community arts center I work at is all privately funded as of now.

Fernando Pullum started life in extreme poverty in Chicago in the '60s, when an African-American male had little chance of succeeding in life, let alone growing up to inspire generations of disadvantaged kids in South Los Angeles where he has taught for over 25 years. This happened in part because he was introduced to the trumpet at an early age and through music was able to transcend his circumstances and go on to college and grad school on full scholarships. Many organizations and individuals have recognized Fernando throughout his career, including Oprah, VH-1 and the State of California as its teacher of the year. During that time, 100 percent of Fernando's students graduated with a high school diploma and only one student failed to enroll in college.

As we know arts education has been dwindling away in the U.S. public school education system for some time. The LAUSD Arts Education branch has been cut by more then 70 percent in the past three years alone. The proposed total elimination of the elementary arts program would close the 133-year elementary music program and the 13-year-old elementary dance, theatre and visual arts programs.

This trend of doing away with the arts is seen as a way to re focus students on the "important" subjects. While math, science, history and the other basic curriculum are invaluable, the value of arts education is completely overlooked. The arts are closely linked to almost everything that is viewed as academically important: academic achievement, social and emotional development, community involvement, and how to work with others. The confidence, self-exploration and reliance that students experience during arts programs are taken with them into their academic lives and beyond. We are not trying to make great musicians and artists, we are trying to make great citizens.

Our next generation will need to be complex problem solvers. As the world changes and accelerates, with innovation happening at incredible speeds, we need to arm our students with ways to analyze, synthesize and express themselves. Improvisation becomes a tool that will enable them to respond to their complex and ever-changing world. Arts education provides students these tools and will help them throughout their academic life and beyond.

As the arts are continually cut in schools and communities, the private sector needs to respond and find ways to fund these important programs. The arts serve as a way to both bond and celebrate communities. Students in underserved communities in particular need to have access to the arts, allowing for expression, interpreting, and the making of connections from history to the everyday world around them.