The Fight for Arts Education
by James Conlon
Public school districts throughout the country are struggling to meet mandated requirements with shrinking budgets. In such times, school boards are forced to make wrenching choices. The Los Angeles School Board met on February 14 to consider the elimination of a number of programs, including all elementary school arts instruction. The public outcry against these cuts was loud and clear—and effective. The Board decided to reconsider the cuts and to explore alternatives. The outcome of all this remains far from certain, but it is clear that the Board was influenced, at least for the moment, by the many letters, emails and comments it received. It is encouraging to know that if those of us who value the arts raise our voices, they can be heard.
Below was my own contribution to the discussion. To be continued, I’m sure.
TO: Dr John Deasy, Superintendent, and Members of the LAUSD Board of Education
I write to you today having learned of the proposed funding cuts and possible elimination of the art and music program in LAUSD Elementary Schools.
As Music Director of Los Angeles Opera since 2006, and as one who, for the last forty years has been privileged to enjoy an international conducting career, I am deeply concerned. I myself am a product of the New York City Public School System, and I can personally attest to the importance that arts education plays in children’s lives.
The arts are for everyone, not a selected few. They historically have been, and must remain, an integral part of public education. A society without music and art is a society without a soul. A society that does not educate its young people endangers that soul. Art is not a frill, but an essential part of every child’s (and adult’s) intellectual, emotional and spiritual development. It is indispensable for the character development of a generation upon whom we count to constitute an informed and responsible citizenry for the future of our country.
Public arts education has suffered massive cutbacks over the past thirty years. That trend must be reversed, not made worse by further cuts. The relatively small fiscal benefit that these cuts would represent is far outweighed by the human toll of a generation of Los Angeles’ children being deprived of the joy and enrichment that the arts provide.
I understand that difficult choices must be made in these complex times. I also recognize and appreciate that you, as the leaders of the LAUSD, have no desire to make these, or any other, painful cuts.
However, the Los Angeles community looks to the District’s leadership to do what is best for its children, not only to manage, in all good faith, shrinking resources in difficult fiscal times. The creativity, compassion and wisdom required at this moment are the essence of what the arts represent in our—or any civilized –society. Standing up for artistic expression and its enduring value is, in fact, the best evidence of a society’s best intentions.
With very best wishes,