Bands (copy)

Members of the clarinet section of the Culpeper Middle School 7th and 8th Grade Concert Band perform “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky” during a concert in February. 

This week is National Arts in Education Week. Americans Speak Out About the Arts found, through numerous surveys, that Americans believe “the arts promote personal well-being, help us understand other cultures in our community, are essential to a well-rounded K-12 education, and that government has an important role in funding the arts.”

In a 2018 survey, the same group found that 94 percent of Americans believe students should receive an education in the arts in elementary and middle school, and 93 percent felt students in high school should receive art education. The vast majority of Americans (89 percent) also felt the arts should be taught in the community as well.

The focus in public education for some time now has been STEM, Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Only recently have people realized that Arts have an important part to play in STEM and promote STEAM instead. More and more, we hear from industry leaders in these areas that they look for employees who have art in their background. They find that those who have focused only on STEM do not have the creativity necessary to move the industry forward.

Art is in every industry and is part of every career. Marketing requires a creative mind to attract customers and graphic art is a huge component of that field. Architecture is art. Engineering is art. Communication is art. The entertainment industry is art. The manufacturing of cars, clothing, shoes, jewelry, computers, all involve art. The list is endless. Having employees who are willing to look “outside of the box” pushes a company—a store, an industry—ahead of the competition. These are the employees who have vision and can create innovative products that fill a niche and even create a new industry as society changes.

In 2017, Creative Industries reports revealed that there were 673,656 businesses in the United States involved in the creation or distribution of the arts. They employed 3.48 million people, representing 4.01 percent of all businesses and 2.04 percent of all employees, respectively. I am sure that number has grown substantially. Many localities build their tourism around the art community. While traveling, people seek out art activities to enrich their experiences.

More recently studies have shown the benefits of the arts for mental and physical health. Music and art therapy are used for students, patients, and the elderly to help them cope with serious illnesses. The arts can be practiced and enjoyed well into our senior years and by those with disabilities. How many times have you read of individuals who are well into their 90s and are still painting or playing music?

While art can be learned at any stage in life, having an appreciation and understanding of the arts at an early age helps young people deal in a positive way with many challenges they face growing up. The skills they develop will continue to serve them throughout their lives in dealing with stress and difficult situations they encounter. While they may not choose to go into art for a career, art enhances their ability to excel in whatever career they choose.

Culpeper’s school system is fortunate to have excellent art teachers throughout. They care about their students and understand the value of what they teach. School arts programs deserve the same respect and funding as CTE and sports programs. Unfortunately, the arts seem to be a target for reduced funding when the budget for a school system is tight—unless the leadership truly understands the overall benefit of the arts to the students, the staff and the community as a whole.

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Elizabeth Hutchins is a former educator and Culpeper County

School Board member.

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