Arts educators forge creative partnerships
What is art, anyway?
Yale art philosopher Monroe Beardsley said it was an intentional “arrangement of conditions” that provides an aesthetic experience. A painter intentionally arranges colors on a canvas, a dancer moves with intent, an architect designs buildings that transform skylines in pleasing ways.
Art-lovers are displeased by public education’s treatment of art over the past 40 years.
Rocco Landesman, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, said in 2012, “Budget pressures and an increasing focus on just reading and math have crowded the arts out of too many school days.”
For two decades, arts education has been hit by budget cuts. A look at Basmat and Spiegelman’s 2012 report, commissioned by the National Council on Education Statistics, documents decreases in the availability of visual arts, drama/theatre and dance in schools nationwide.
The NCES data shows 89 percent of high schools offered visual arts in 2008-2009, down from 93 percent in 1999-2000. In elementary schools, only 4 percent offered instruction specifically designated for drama/theatre during 2009-2010, down from 20 percent in 1999-2000.
Infusing art back into the classroom
Local schools get creative by forging partnerships. The Alaska Fine Arts Academy in Eagle River is a good example.
Holly Zorn Lindsay is the School Business Partnership Liaison for the AFAA, and runs drama club programs at both Ravenswood Elementary and Eagle River High School.
When asked in a recent interview how she defines art, Lindsay said, “Art changes as you get older. I believe art is any opportunity to create music, fine art, drama. To create something out of nothing, whether you are sitting down with sheet music you’ve never seen, or a script you have to learn, or clay that’s going to be shaped. Art is a process.”
She said AFAA once played a small part in the schools.
“We might judge a poetry contest,” she explained, adding the AFAA’s role increased as the Arts programs felt the budget squeeze.
Chugiak and Eagle River High Schools will be staging “Bye Bye Birdie” in April 2017.
Lindsay said, “I’m really excited that there will be a combined musical production.”
Art meets STEM
The AFAA was started by Arthur and Eleanor Braendel, Eagle River homesteaders and two founders of the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra. Now celebrating 30 years, the AFAA sticks to its mission: “that the arts are for everyone and #artmatters.”
In Alaska, Arts can also partner with the sciences.
Kesler Woodward, landscape artist and Professor Emeritus at University of Alaska Fairbanks, was taped in September for the “Northern Soundings” podcast. In the interview with host Robert Hannon, Woodward said it was his longstanding interest to combine science and art.
Woodward said there is much each discipline can learn from the other, but meaningful observations and questioning take time.
“More than anything in recent years,” Woodward said, he has found that “collaborating with writers, and with other artists, and now with scientists” has helped him to “see my own subject and my own work in a different way.”
Kurt Vonnegut once advised students: “Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.”
A.E. Weisgerber is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal and New Jersey Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @aeweisgerber.