Especially now, we should support and celebrate the arts

September 13 through 19 is National Arts in Education Week, a nationwide celebration recognizing the transformative power of the arts in education.

There is much to celebrate about the arts in our region: from the vital programs of the Arts and Science Council to the regional artists on display during Tosco Music Party; from the aspirations of the Theatre Charlotte’s TC Jr. program and the award-winning curricula at Northwest School of the Arts to the professional artistry performed by our venerable Charlotte Ballet, Charlotte Symphony, and Opera Carolina; from the stages of the Blumenthal Performing Arts and the Harvey Gantt Center to the Levine Museum of the New South and the McColl Center for Visual Arts, all of which are “hubs” for arts programming; from the cultural offerings by our beloved institutions of higher education at CPCC, Davidson College, JCSU, Queens University, and UNCC, to our invaluable Bechtler Museum of Modern Art and both Mint Museums; and from our venerable Charlotte Mecklenburg Public Library to, most importantly, all the dedicated and resourceful arts education teachers throughout our region.

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 well-being 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.

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 former director of Charlotte Rep, Theatre Charlotte, and Golden Circle Theatre from 1985-2005.

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