Taylor Atlee welcomed everyone. A longtime champion of the arts, Atlee had volunteered to facilitate the discussion. Joining her was a roomful of concerned citizens, invited to contribute their thoughts and, ultimately, to draft a plan that would position the arts as a vital resource to confirming and augmenting their state’s emerging 21st-century learning agenda.
“Let’s begin by addressing three key questions,” suggested Atlee in an effort to focus the discussion. “First, how can our state guarantee all residents equitable access to the arts? Second, how can we offer quality arts programs to all stakeholders as well as design meaningful ways to assess their impact? And third, how can we highlight the role of the arts in developing an educated citizenry and a productive workforce?”
During the next hour, the group identified a litany of challenges and opportunities. On the plus side was a state tradition steeped in the production of and support for the arts; a diverse range of ethnicities with rich cultural heritage to share; the rollout of a web-based education system using emerging technology to enhance teaching and learning in schools; and growing interest in providing real options for kids. There was also a record of state support for local educational experiences provided by artists and arts venues to citizens of all ages. Unfortunately, the list of challenges was twice as long. It included:
- A student population rich in diversity but whose learning needs were becoming increasingly complex;
- An inequitable distribution of arts resources across the state—in schools and communities;
- Education accountability that defines student performance based primarily on annual state reading and math test results;
- State and local education policies that treat English, math, and science as essential—but the arts and other subjects as dispensable, often resulting in cuts to arts programs and teaching positions;
- Intense competition for scarce resources, not only pitting education against other key state services—including grants to artists and museums—but also pitting different arts disciplines against each other;
- Polarizing politics that generally threaten effective governance; and
- Lack of consistent and strategic communication between champions of the arts and policymakers.