The arts: An integral part to the education equation
Olivia Gude, keynote speaker at the Iowa Fine Arts Education Summit, is an artist and educator at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a Professor Emerita of the University of Illinois at Chicago. Gude has created many award-winning collaborative mural and mosaic projects. In recent years, she has united her work as a community artist and as an art educator by creating participatory spaces in which teachers investigate and re-invent the social practices of art education.
Gude works with art teachers to foster the collaborative creation of new curriculum and assessment models in urban and suburban school districts, including the Chicago Public Schools, Atlanta Public Schools, Cobb County School District in Georgia, Fort Worth Independent School District, Naperville School District, New Trier High School, Tampa public schools, the Los Angeles United School District, and the Singapore Ministry of Education.
Here, we asked Gude about arts in education.
Why are the fine arts an integral part of a well-rounded education?
An important component of the wealth of any society is the culture that the society produces. In a democratic society, this cultural wealth is the birthright of everyone. A quality art education gives each student the tools to understand and participate in important cultural conversations that are represented in traditional and contemporary art in multiple disciplines.
There are many reasons why art is part of a well-rounded education — research clearly shows that arts education encourages students’ engagement with schooling. It is well-documented that attendance is better on days when students know they have art classes! Arts participation develops a range of intelligences and capacities in students; it enhances students’ creative problem-solving and problem-setting skills. Problem setting is the capacity to look at a situation or group of facts and think of fresh ways to approach this data. Participation in the arts promotes social emotional learning. It supports students in the capacity to share their own stories and to engage with empathy and depth with the experiences of others.
If a school is providing a good fine arts education, what exactly is it providing?
Each art form offers unique opportunities for students to experience the world in different ways. The recommendation is that all students have access to arts education in music, theater, dance, visual arts, and media arts. These experiences can be provided in multiple ways — through arts specialists, by classroom generalist teachers, by visiting teaching artists — focused on specific arts disciplines or as arts learning integrated with other curriculum content. Early on when writing the national standards, the decision was made to write grade-level standards ranging from pre-Kindergarten to Advanced High School for each aspect of learning in that artistic discipline. If you read through standards from “the littles” to teens in high school, you’ll see that the standards “paint a picture” of how arts education at each level develops students’ capacities. They recognize that schools meet students where they are as they enter school and then scaffold arts learning for more skill and comprehension.
Iowa has standards for the fine arts, and they are organized around four artistic processes: creating, responding, connecting and presenting/producing/performing. Why is this significant?
The Iowa (and national) arts standards recognize that meaningful interactions with the arts happen in different ways. Let’s begin by talking about “Responding.” How does arts education support people in understanding, interpreting and enjoying works of art or performance? Note that the goal is not just cognitive understanding, but also enhanced experiencing — experiencing pleasure and joy — whether from listening to a community choir to interacting with a work public art in the town square.
The process of “Creating” acknowledges the importance of making — making music, participating in dance and theater, making artworks with traditional and new media — for students’ growing into confident people who believe that what they make and do can make a difference in the world. “Presenting” standards support students in thinking about how to share their own works with others and also how to understand how museums, other cultural institutions and self-organized groups create opportunities for preserving and sharing our heritages.
When the standards were written there was a lot of conversation about whether “Connecting” should be a separate process. The way in which the arts connect us with others is not separate from making, presenting and responding. However, it was decided that articulating “Connecting” as a process foregrounded the importance of the arts in deeply understanding the world and ourselves in relationship to others.
What does it mean to be a fine arts educator today?
Today is a fabulous time to be an arts educator or arts education supporter in any artistic discipline. There is a growing understanding across the U.S. that the arts contribute to students’ intellectual and emotional growth and that the arts are important to building democratic communities that are based on understanding and appreciation.