Art in the Schools

Last night I had the chance to be on a panel with three distinguished educators—Bob Bates, founder of Inner City Arts in Los Angeles, a program that works with 350-500 kids per week giving them the chance to make art; Dr. Eric Cooper, founder of The Urban Alliance which advocates for inner city kids reaching their full potential in education; and principal, Debbie David, of St James private school in Los Angeles who rallied parents to provide funding for an art studio on the school and art programs. It was an honor to be included as a working artist who teaches adults. It was heartening to hear of the great work my co-panelists are doing and the way we have all experienced the power of art to teach self-esteem, problem solving, creative thinking and happiness.

The show was inspired by an article on The Huffington Post about Andrew Bott, principal of the Orchard Gardens Elementary School, in inner city Boston, which was rife with disorder and low test scores when he took over in 2010. Among his interventions was replacing 80% of the teachers, firing the security staff and hiring art teachers instead. The results were a dramatic reduction in mayhem and much higher test scores.

So what exactly does art do? First, even with minimal skills, people are able to express themselves, an empowering experience. We all have a deep desire to simply be seen and heard.

As we go farther in our art making we begin to discover who we are, what the particular nature of our hand is, what our interests are, our strengths and even our character. Kids often use art to express feelings and to try to master them. What’s great is that the simple act of making art brings us out of our habitual thoughts and everyday experiences into a place of one-pointed focus and presence no matter what we make. Art helps us observe life from a less entangled perspective. It teaches us how to be present, to think clearly and have a calm mind.

Bob Bates pointed out that if we could infuse the first twelve years of every child’s life with art, music and dance, kids would grow up to be strong, confident and aware. It would change our society.

The question we were asked was if schools integrated art into the whole curriculum would be be able to do away with the reliance on security guards to keep our schools safe. As Dr. Eric Cooper pointed out, educating the whole child is healing and empowering. It’s a far better strategy to focus on the positive.

You can see our chat here.

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