Strengthening our Schools through the Arts

Boston Landmarks Orchestra Children's MuseumAs a young girl growing up in the vital and creative Detroit of the 1960s, and with parents who loved to explore the city, I was taken early to the Detroit Institute of Arts, the ballet and local theatres. As a public school student, we traveled by bus to the Detroit Symphony, the Detroit Historical Museum, and the Cranbrook Museums. We sculpted in art class and acted in theatre class. I met others who also loved words and music and painting. I dreamt of a career in the theater, and this year will celebrate 40 years in the arts.

In his Boston Globe Opinion of January 11th, writer John Garelick contends that Boston’s next superintendent should be an arts advocate. Arguing that “arts education is a necessity not a luxury,” Garelick points to the remarkable turnaround of Boston’s Orchard Gardens School in Roxbury, and how, under a new Principal dedicated to the arts, it went from one of the worst schools in the state to one of the best, with some of the top MCAS results in the Commonwealth.

Whether it’s via music, painting, sculpture, theatre, poetry or dance, young people find in the arts a way to express their tumultuous feelings, explore their sense of rebellion and longing, and voice their desire to be heard and understood. Arts engage and include, they invite collaboration and camaraderie, and can combat isolation, doubt and loneliness. And recent studies show that the arts can be employed to teach crucial skills like reading, critical thinking, and problem solving.

According to Garelick, “A 2012 report from the National Endowment for the Arts, entitled “The Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth,” concluded that students “who have arts-rich experiences in school do better across-the-board academically, and they also become more active and engaged citizens, voting, volunteering, and generally participating at higher rates than their peers.”

Recognizing our role in providing a child’s earliest arts experiences, Boston Children’s Museum has doubled its arts offerings, adding many new partners and programs from such diverse groups as the Boston Symphony Orchestra, From the Top, Boston City-Wide String Orchestra, Boston Children’s Chorus, New England Conservatory, Boston Conservatory and the Berklee School of Music. Additionally, we have expanded our artist in residence program, and created an exciting Art Gallery exhibition program, which changes quarterly.

This past six weeks I have been proud to serve on newly-elected Boston Mayor Marty Walsh’s Arts and Culture Transition Team. The diverse and passionate team of artists, arts leaders and educators, have attended town halls, analyzed and researched data, listened to Boston residents and shared ideas with the community. We will soon present our findings to our new Mayor. When we do, we will confirm John Garelick’s assertion that, in order to address the challenges of our public schools, the new Superintendent must arm themselves with a powerful antidote to underperformance: a rigorous, diverse and substantive arts program for every Boston student.

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