Kelly Fey Bolender
Arts Education Program Manager at Americans for the Arts
The arts are fundamental to a well-rounded education, so advocates are working hard to garner increased support at every level of government.
Arts education is transformational. Young people engaged in arts education are more likely to have better life outcomes including higher SAT scores, stronger collaboration and creativity skills, and increased employability. Americans for the Arts, the national nonprofit organization for advancing the arts and arts education in America, envisions a country where every child has access to, and takes part in, high-quality learning experiences in the arts, both in school and in the community. Investing in arts education requires action on the local, state, and national levels to ensure every young person can reap the benefits from a well-rounded arts education.
Meeting with Congress
Every year, grassroots advocates from across the country come to Washington, D.C. to meet with their members of Congress to garner support for the arts and arts education at the federal level. Hosted by Americans for the Arts in partnership with over 85 national arts organizations, the National Arts Action Summit is the largest gathering of its kind, bringing together a broad cross section of America’s cultural and civic organizations.
This national advocacy effort advances several key arts education policies and funding sources that provide vital resources to students and educators. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) lists the arts and music — alongside reading, math, and a host of other subjects — in the federal definition of a “Well-Rounded Education.” Americans for the Arts continues to track spending and funding guidelines related to the provisions outlined in ESSA where arts education can be applied.
The U.S. Department of Education directs grants through the Assistance for Arts Education program to strengthen the arts as part of a well-rounded education. Arts education grants have served more than 230 congressional districts in 33 states. Funding for this grant program, which is the only one explicitly related to arts education, has decreased by $10 million since 2010, despite its wide reach and deep impact on student outcomes. Advocates continue to urge their congresspeople to increase their investment to this grant program to expand access to arts education, as part of the call for a well-rounded education.
Changing juvenile justice
Arts education advocacy efforts extend beyond support for grants and assessments from the Department of Education. In 2020, Congress instructed the Federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to explore the use of the arts in its juvenile justice programming, with input from the National Endowment for the Arts and arts stakeholders.
In any given year, an estimated 2.1 million youth under the age of 18 are arrested in the United States, and approximately 1.7 million delinquency cases are disposed in juvenile courts annually. A multisystem effort is required to ensure our nation’s children avoid the justice system and are empowered to live safe, healthy, and fulfilling lives. There are many points of possible engagement with the arts across the entire juvenile justice system, ranging from prevention to high-quality arts education for youth in state secure facilities, to the use of arts programs as an alternative to sentencing, and to support successful re-entry into communities. Advocates encourage investment in arts-based juvenile justice programs through the Department of Justice to provide better outcomes for our nation’s most vulnerable young people.
Advocacy at the federal level secures the foundation for better access to arts education for all young people in the United States. Americans for the Arts continues to serve as a leader in arts education advocacy by harnessing the collective impact of our grassroots advocates to push for increased funding and innovative policy making. Through these cooperative advocacy efforts, we will fight to ensure that every young person participates in a high-quality arts education, so that they may experience the transformational power of the arts.