If you grew up in the 1990’s or earlier, chances are you took an art class as part of your elementary school curriculum. You may have dabbled with water colors, lamented covering your school uniform in oil pastels or—if you were lucky—got to spend a few coveted minutes on the oh so awesome pottery wheel. For many kids, art was a normal part of the school day, allotted as much time as science, language arts, or math.
Today, though, art’s place in school curriculums is sliding lower and lower on the priority scale. Over the last two decades, the emphasis on standardized tests as benchmarks for success (and federal funding) has fostered schools and classrooms that focus on math and literacy with laser-like intensity, while subjects like art and music quietly languish to the back burner.
But far from being an “elective” subject that children don’t really need, research has proven time and again that exposing children to the arts in the classroom helps them develop critical life skills.
A 2007 study “Studio Thinking: The Real Benefits of Visual Arts Education” pointed out skills which were important not just for art, but other fields of study as well. Skills like the ability to develop and execute an idea and the ability to learn from—and move past—mistakes, were things which art classes taught students. The old adage “think outside the box” is learned in the art studio, where children are taught to envision something on a blank page or a shapeless lump of clay.
This, the study suggested, could be carried over to science, where students could be asked to create a hypothesis for an experiment and then try to achieve that outcome; or to history, where students could apply their imaginations to understanding events of the past, and possibilities of the future.
Equally importantly, though, are the mental and emotional development benefits of art. Students are taught patience, persistence, and how to connect with each other and the world around them on a deeper emotional level.
So what are schools doing to re-introduce the arts to the classroom? As it turns out, quite a bit. Schools are partnering with organizations and tapping into their local art communities to reestablish arts programs both in school and after school. Chicago, with its vibrant art ethos, is one of the cities reclaiming art for its schools.
Check Out Part 2 for the steps organizations are taking to bring art education to children and youth in Chicago.