September 13 through 19 is National Arts in Education Week, a nationwide celebration recognizing the transformative power of the arts in education. Designated by Congress in 2010, this annual celebration is intended to bring attention to the cause of arts education for elected officials and educational decision makers across the country, and to support equitable access to the arts for all learners. It is also a time for local residents to pause, reflect, and applaud their cherished cultural assets.
There is much to celebrate throughout our region; from the vital programs of the Ashe County Arts Council to the regional artists on display at Ruffin Street Gallery in Linville, from the aspirations of the Junior Appalachian Musicians at the Jones House in Boone to the award-winning Pioneer Playmakers at Watauga High School, from the Blowing Rock Art and History Museum to the historic Banner Elk School, both of which are “hubs” for arts programming, from the cultural offerings by Appalachian State University and Lees-McRae College to our invaluable public libraries and, most importantly, to all the dedicated and resourceful arts education teachers throughout the High Country.
Teaching and learning will never quite be the same in our post-COVID-19 world. However, our commitment to provide rich and varied educational experiences remains unwavering. The arts have played an important role in these tumultuous times and will continue to do so for all students, including the traditionally underrepresented, those with special needs, and from low-income families. The healing and unifying power of the arts has been evident as the pandemic swept the country. We have seen and heard it play out through works of art on sidewalks, shared musical moments from porches, in theatre and dance performances, and every other imaginable iteration of art making. As states and schools work through multiple challenges in the months and years ahead, arts education must remain central to a well-rounded education and fully-funded to support the wellbeing of all students and the entire school community.
Arts education nurtures the creation of a welcoming school environment where students can express themselves in a safe and positive way. Celebrating our ability to come together as educators and students is vital to creating a healthy and inclusive school community. The arts, through a rich partnership among certified arts educators, teaching artists, and community arts providers, play a valuable role in helping students and their families build and sustain community and cultural connections.
Our country, our states, and our communities are facing challenges unlike any we have seen before. When intertwining the arts in and through education, research shows that we are better preparing our future leaders to face these challenges. According to a decades-long study, youth who participate in the arts are more likely to be successful in school, college, and career than their peers who did not. However, this same research found a racial gap indicating that arts education is an equity issue and a matter of racial justice in America.
A statement of support for arts education has been endorsed by over 50 national organizations, and reads as follows: “It is imperative that all students have access to an equitable delivery of arts education that includes dance, media arts, music, theatre, and visual arts that supports their educational, social, and emotional well-being, taught by certified professional arts educators in partnership with community arts providers.”
As we celebrate National Arts in Education Week, please take a moment to reflect upon the High Country’s many cultural blessings. They are truly worthy of your support.
(Arts educator Keith Martin is Distinguished Professor of Theatre at Appalachian State University and Chair of the Appalachian Theatre of the High Country.)