For those of you who follow me, you know that I wrestle with my fair share of Mommy Guilt. Back-to-school time has prompted the question of extracurricular activities, which never fails to remind me that despite my job in the arts, I have utterly failed to give my two kids a grounding in things like Suzuki violin or children’s theater workshops or even piano. My daughter flirted briefly with ballet (she made an adorable Duckling in the spring recital) but beyond demonstrating an amateur’s love of a good cardboard box project, my son really has been able to steer clear of formal training in any arts discipline. Now that they are in the third grade, I’m counting on more in-school arts education instruction – but I realize that not every school district can offer this to its students. And even though my kids have made different choices in their spare time, we are lucky to have the ability to choose, and find enriching moments along the way. 

In many schools across our region just like across the country, there is no choice, just a struggle to keep arts as part of the curriculum, or included in extracurricular programs. There are competing demands for funding, for time in the day, or a scarcity of other resources. And it’s abundantly clear that kids and youth in underserved or low-income communities suffer the most from program cuts, even though research shows consistently that they benefit most from arts engagement in school.

Next week is National Arts Education Week, and it’s a great time to call attention to why this matters. Among other compelling reasons, think about this: Seventy-two percent of business leaders say that creativity is the number one skill they are seeking when hiring, according to Americans for the Arts. But, 85 percent of these employers can’t find the creative applicants they seek. And, get this: low-income students who are highly engaged in the arts are twice as likely to graduate college as their peers with no arts education. 

It’s that important.

That’s why ArtsWave is so focused on arts education as a critical imperative among other community priorities. We hear the business community's need for an educated and creative workforce.  We see the desires of all the region's residents to give their children the best possible start in life with a quality education. The good news is that we can achieve these goals and more by expanding access to arts education for all of Greater Cincinnati's youth.

ArtsWave is creating tools for mapping and coordinating arts education activity, so that we can use our resources to maximum advantage, for the most kids. We aspire to work together with arts organizations and schools across the region to help more kids develop 21st century skills like collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking. And that’s why we are about to repeat a pilot grants program we started last year, making mini-grants for arts programs in the schools in Place Matters neighborhoods designated by LISC  (Local Initiatives Support Corporation). Our dollars can help “add the arts” to the education experience of kids in the neighborhoods that need it the most. 

Jane Chu, the chairperson of the National Endowment for the Arts, is clear in her call for action: “If we want to get serious about closing the achievement gap, then we need to get serious about the arts. This is a matter of urgency, especially given the recent news that 51 percent of U.S. public school students now live in poverty… The arts are not a frill. When school districts cut arts education from the budget they’re cutting short their students’ potential for academic and social success, as well as solving  old problems in news ways…. The arts teach us how to think creatively.  They give our brains license to search for color where others might see black-and-white, or to create music when others might stay silen. These are the qualities of leaders and of visionaries.”

Here's to raising the next generation of leaders and visionaries. To learn more about how the arts transform education, follow #ArtsEdWeek.