by Emily Holtrop
When I walked into the Cincinnati Art Museum fourteen years ago, I was making a fairly large life change. My move to Cincinnati for my position at the museum was not just a geographic shift - from Miami, Florida to the Queen City - it was also a career shift. Up to that point I had dedicated my schooling and my career to public history education. I had received a series of degrees with a history focus and I had worked at a history museum. When I graduated with my MA, I was going to show the world why history education was so important. Then I came to Cincinnati and my world view shifted. What prompted that change? Two words - the Arts.
The arts were not new in my life, I had grown up with a strong arts background. My grandparents owned a music store in Pontiac, Michigan and from a young age I was taking piano lessons (man, I wish I would have kept up with those). When it came time in elementary school for me to begin playing an instrument, I was the kid who received the fancy clarinet from her grandparents. It was just a given in my family that I would play an instrument, everyone did. I played that clarinet, then a bass clarinet, all through middle and high school and even participated in marching band in college (yes, I was in the color guard). On top of my musical education, my mom was an art teacher. I grew up with a creative parent who encouraged curiosity and creativity, encouraged trying hard and accepting failure and most importantly, getting back up and trying again. So when I walked through the doors to the CAM, I was coming home, coming back to the arts.
In my role at the CAM, I have had two positions, first the Assistant Curator for School & Teacher Programs and now the Director of Learning & Interpretation. I have shared our amazing collection with thousands of visitors, both young and old, and have enjoyed everyone of those experiences. Through my work at the museum, I have also had the great good fortune of being part of a larger art museum education family through the National Art Education Association (NAEA). Over the last six years I have served NAEA in a variety of roles, the most recent as the Director of Museum Education Division. In both of these roles I am creating, celebrating and advocating, on a daily basis, for arts in education.
So why am I writing about this now? Because the arts in our schools are in trouble. While the newly passed Every Student Succeeds Act is a step in the right direction, we still see that the arts are the first subject to get cut when budgets are tight. The arts are still viewed, in many schools, nice but not necessary. As someone who has had her life profoundly changed by the arts, I am asking, no pleading, that we make the arts necessary again. Students who participate in the arts are better critical and creative thinkers, they are problem solvers, they are leaders.
This week, September 11-17, 2016, is National Art in Education Week (NAiEW). NAiEW is a “national celebration recognizing the transformative power of the arts in education. Designated by Congress in 2010 through House Resolution 275, the celebration is designated to bring attention to this cause for elected officials and educational decision makers across the country and to support equitable access to the arts for all students.”
This week, and every day, week, and year, we need to recognize and advocate for the arts - not just the visual but also the musical, movement based and theatrical. The Americans for the Arts state that the “arts are an essential part of a complete education, no matter if it happens in the home, school, or community. Students of all ages—from kindergarten to college to creative aging programs—benefit from artistic learning, innovative thinking, and creativity. Celebrating National Arts in Education Week is a way to recognize this impact and share the message with friends, family, and communities.”
So what can you do to advocate for the arts? Speak up and be heard. Share your arts in education story. Our municipal, education, and state leaders need to know about the impact the arts have on young peoples’ lives and that they must support the arts in every district and every school in America. Every state representative has an email address, why not send a note sharing your art story with those who represent you in the capitol. After sending your email, join the movement of thousands of arts education advocates celebrating National Arts in Education Week. Contribute your story on social media this week by using the hashtag, #BecauseOfArtsEd, I know I will be.
The Cincinnati Art Museum supports arts in education every day, it is this foundation for everything we were built on. Our primary function is to bring people and art together. We exist because of art, because people from all walks of life, from all cultures and time periods chose to create something beautiful or interesting. Last year the museum served close to 200,000 people and I am proud to say that almost half of those visitors participated in an educational program. Be it through a school tour, gallery talk, lecture, music program, family or accessibility program, the museum is bringing people and art together. We are advocating for arts in education. For a full listing of how you can participate in a museum program, check out our calendar and plan your next art adventure.
As I started my career at the museum working directly with teachers, I still have a soft place in my heart for pre-K arts education. So Teachers, if you are interested in bringing art into your classroom, please join us on Wednesday, September 21st from 4-7pm for the first Evenings for Educators of the new school year. The museum is very proud to be the only monthly professional development program teaching visual arts education. Celebrating 27 years, Evenings for Educators continues to be a leader in teacher professional development. Also, please check out all of our teacher resources and school program opportunities. We are your ally in arts education, so reach out and let us help.
In closing, I am sending to all of you a call to action - Create, Celebrate and Advocate for the Arts in Education. Visit the Americans for the Arts or National Art Education Association for how you can get more involved. It can be as easy as opening the door to the Cincinnati Art Museum to a student (of any age).