Bartram High cut their visual arts program. What does this mean for students? – July 2, 2015

The Inquirer printed an article about Bartram High School being forced to cut their art class due to budget constraints. In response to the article, the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, PCCY, The Mayor’s Office of Arts Culture and the Creative Economy, and the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program have prepared a statement about this situation and the importance of arts programs in public schools:

Last week, Bartram High School announced that it will be forced to cut the visual arts program that has kept many of its students engaged and excited about coming to school. This loss is a truly tragic situation for the already notoriously troubled Southwest Philadelphia school, but despite pleas from students and teachers to save the program, the administration says its hands are tied.

This leaves music as the only general elective available at Bartram, a tragedy considering how much art and music both do to help students succeed. According to data compiled by Americans for the Arts, students that are exposed to regular arts programming throughout high school are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement, and on average score 100 points better on the SAT. Further, students who have access to regular arts programming are less likely to drop out. Nationally, students of low socioeconomic status have a 22% dropout rate, but the dropout rate for those engaged in the arts drops to just 4%. Given the 65% overall dropout rate in Philadelphia public schools, it’s clear that more arts resources, not less, will help keep kids in school.

When schools are faced with tough budgetary challenges, too often arts programs are the first thing on the chopping block. The nonprofit arts and culture community recognizes this issue, and is doing more and more to pick up the slack. In FY2015, the Philadelphia Cultural Fund awarded $350,000 in Youth Arts Enrichment grants, which provide project support for arts education programs serving K-12 students in the Philadelphia School District; Public Citizens for Children and Youth’s Picasso Project awarded grants to 15 schools to bolster their arts offerings through partnerships with an artist or cultural organization; since 2010 the Office of Arts, Culture & the Creative Economy has showcased artwork from K-12 students throughout City Hall, and this year secured a donation from Blick Art Materials for a total of $15,000 for participating schools to purchase supplies for their programs; and since 2013 the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance’s STAMP program has continued to provide Philly high school students with free admission to 15 top arts & cultural attractions.

There are also countless examples of individual artists and organizations working tirelessly across the region to reach youth and supplement the lack of arts exposure they’re getting in their classrooms, like The Clay Studio’s traveling claymobile, the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program’s in-school class projects, ArtWell’s series of arts-based educational programs that have been adopted in over 30 schools, and Philadelphia Young Playwrights’ work with classroom teachers and in after-school playwriting labs. But while the efforts of the cultural sector and other education supporters are certainly laudable, we don’t claim to be a full solution; we cannot reach every school alone.

In Philadelphia, where the situation is the most critical, we need a long-term, citywide cultural plan that includes effective strategies to keep art and music in schools. Pittsburgh, Denver, Charlotte, Portland, and San Francisco have all produced integrated cultural plans that include broad community input and dedicated cultural funding for cultural assets and arts education, and Philadelphia and its students deserve the same. A Philadelphia cultural plan must include concrete action steps for ensuring not just arts classes, but integration of the arts into other curriculum, and expansion of in-school opportunities for qualified teaching artists.

The problem does not begin and end with Philadelphia, however. It is time for our elected officials at all levels to make arts education a priority in the overall fight to save our public schools. State funding cuts have devastated arts programs in schools across our city, including Bartram. It’s time to restore those cuts so principals can move forward with plans to hire and rehire lost art teachers. Likewise, the Department of Education should establish, and the General Assembly should support, a statewide Arts Education Data System (as proposed by the Pennsylvania Arts Education Network). A statewide database would be an essential tool for policymakers, educators and the general public to analyze where arts education programming is currently available and where it is lacking, and determine its local impacts and plan accordingly.

For many students, art is the reason that they get up and go to school every morning. Art isn’t just an elective for our students; it’s a must-have. It is time our City and State leaders prioritize improving the public education, including arts programming, that our students need and deserve.