by Ann Talbott Brown, Director of Arts Education, Tennessee Arts Commission
You are likely reading this publication because the arts have played a significant part in your life. You may have meaningful arts experiences that contributed to who you are today. I remember the first time hearing a symphony in third grade, holding an oboe in beginning band, performing as a chorus member in Oliver!, and taking visual arts classes throughout high school. As a child growing up in a rural town from a working-class neighborhood, the arts were enjoyable, a source of intellectual stimulation, and taught me how to understand the world and imagine possibilities for the future.
First meaningful arts experiences often happen in school. If we compared what was available to each of us in school, we might have slightly different or perhaps very different answers. This variation exists for students today as well.
One of the strategies under the Arts Essential to Learning goal in the Tennessee Arts Commission strategic plan is to work to assure that every public school student has access to high-quality arts education in school. This is ambitious taking into account over 1,800 K–12 public schools in 140+ school districts with nearly 65,000 teachers and nearly one million students in Tennessee. To implement this strategy, we have to think about it in two parts: measuring access and assessing quality. Over the next several months, we will focus first on examining access to arts education.
Information about access is valuable for several reasons, by:
• Increasing awareness of who has access and to what.
• Informing decision-making at the district level by equipping leaders with data.
• Propelling districts to share best practices in offering arts education.
• Educating funders who review financial requests for arts education and allowing responsible allocation of funds.
• Highlighting needs and assets for local arts organizations to build within the existing arts education landscape.
Thinking back to the skills gained from my own arts education, making sense of the existing arts education landscape and imagining future possibilities are essential as we work to implement this strategy. To quote Oliver Twist, “Please, sir, I want some more.” More understanding of access and more access itself are worth the effort.