Nola Scott Jones, recently retired Director of Visual & Performing Arts for Metro Schools, offers her thoughts on the current status and future outlook for the arts in our schools.
Do all Metro Schools offer Visual and Performing Arts curriculum and programming?
Yes, all zoned and magnet schools offer arts education. Specific classes offered are dependent on school need and student interest.
Considering the great diversity in Metro Schools, what is most challenging about meeting curriculum standards while offering flexibility to fit the needs of a particular school culture?
Our teachers are certified arts education specialists and well prepared to deliver the curriculum. Making sure every school has access to qualified arts education specialists can be challenging. Increased instructional expectations such as intervention time and mandated recess are frequently beyond the control of the district. Principals have to make difficult decisions with regard to scheduling and instructional time. Fortunately, our district values arts education, and the Tennessee Board of Education requires music and art instruction in every school.
What are the major challenges you have seen in the arts in Metro Schools?
Our demographics in Nashville are changing, and the culture in our school buildings is changing. Our teachers are working to be responsive to our students’ needs. They are constantly reflecting and revising their instruction and activities to reflect the shifting landscape of our culturally diverse community. We see our teachers working harder to engage every subgroup of students in their classes. The district is implementing new classes, new state standards, and new scope and sequence. What hasn’t changed is the fact that our arts teachers are amazing, and they are committed to doing whatever is necessary to provide every student with a quality arts education.
What sets MNPS visual and performing arts apart from the rest of the country?
Nashville is the second most culturally vibrant community in the United States, according to the Arts Vibrancy Index. The nonprofit arts and cultural industry generates $429.3 million a year in economic activity and $51.1 million in local and state government revenue.
Music is embedded in the fiber of our community. The CMA Foundation has donated over $11 million to support music education in Metro Schools. Most people aren’t aware that the artists who play at the CMA Fest perform for free, and proceeds are donated to the CMA Foundation. The CMA Foundation’s remarkable generosity has allowed thousands of Nashville students access to quality music instruments and enhanced instruction.
Our culturally rich community allows unique access to partnerships with organizations such as the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, the Frist Art Museum, the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Parthenon, Cheekwood, Nashville Ballet, Nashville Children’s Theatre, Nashville Symphony, the National Museum of African American Music, Nashville Opera, and OZ Arts Nashville, to name a few. The Metro Arts Commission has been invaluable in assisting in these endeavors. We are indeed fortunate to live in a city where the arts community is flourishing and arts partners are committed to working with our schools.
What are you most proud of during your six years overseeing Visual and Performing Arts?
When my predecessor, Laurie Schell, and I began this work six years ago, we agreed that providing access and equity to quality arts education for every student in Metro Schools was our primary goal. I am very proud of Music Makes Us®, the branded name for music education in MNPS, and how we’ve been able to leverage this work for the other arts disciplines. This unique public/private partnership with MNPS, the Mayor’s Office, and the Nashville music community provides meaningful support for music in our schools. We believe that music is an essential component of a well-rounded education. Music Makes Us® is strengthening traditional school music while adding a contemporary curriculum that embraces new technologies and reflects our diverse student population. Our goal is to eliminate barriers to music education, increase student participation, and enhance the quality of music education for ALL Metro Schools students.
I’m very proud of the work we have done in conjunction with the CMA Foundation. Without CMA, much of our work would simply not be possible. Sara Trahern, CEO, and Tiffany Kerns, Executive Director of the CMA Foundation, have been tireless in their support of music education in Metro Schools.
I’m proud of how we are working to leverage support for music education to impact the other arts content areas. Last fall, MNPS was awarded a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education for Professional Development for Arts Education. This was a hugely competitive grant, and MNPS was one of 20 districts nationwide to be selected to receive the grant. The district is partnering with the Frist Art Museum and Quaver online music curriculum to provide professional development for our elementary art and music teachers. Our partnership with TPAC provides opportunities for our students from 35 Metro Schools to perform Disney Musicals in Schools. Recently, Nashville Ballet provided professional development for our dance teachers. We’ve also worked to provide professional development for our teachers to enhance artful experiences for our students with special needs. Metro Schools recently hired a Visual Arts Coordinator for the first time in 20 years.
How can MNPS, our community partners, and families help to meet the challenges for arts education in Nashville?
Our district leadership, community partners, teachers, students, and families are our most important advocates for arts education in Metro Schools. We can all work together to advocate for the importance of arts education as part of every child’s well-rounded education. Attend performances and exhibits at schools, donate time or resources to schools’ arts programs, support candidates who value arts education, be vocal in council and board meetings, participate in artful experiences in our community. Every citizen can be a conduit for arts education.
What would be the one thing you would tell Nashville about the importance of arts in schools and in the lives of children?
Art is the lever for change in schools. Creativity is essential in education and life. Every student in every school deserves opportunities to make and learn art and music. A student’s access to a rich arts education should not be dependent on zip code, socioeconomic status, racial or ethnic background, country of birth, or language spoken at home. Nashville’s rich arts ecosystem puts our district in a unique position to serve as an arts education model for the rest of the country.
For more information, visit www.mnps.org/visual-and-performing-arts/ and www.musicmakesus.org.