Thinking Like an Arts Education Advocate

When I set out to direct IndyFringe's CROWD PLAY, I was very unaware of what it took to be an arts education advocate. In Indiana, post-secondary educational expenses top the list of priorities and pay outs in the budget, but primary and secondary schools are not even listed among the top forty expenses for the 2011-2013 Indiana state budget. (1) What does this mean for our children? It means that, whereas some other states spend upwards of $15,000 per child in order to ensure the success of their children, we spend just over $9,000 per student in the poorest and most rural Indiana counties. (2)

What does this mean for performing arts educators? As one concerned teacher put it, "when a theatre department is cut from school, it goes away for good." (3) If the state is not paying out enough for our students to remain competitive in a growing and ever-changing market, then it is highly unlikely that students will be prepared to work cooperatively or creatively because performing arts classes are almost always the first programs to be cut. (4)

Of course, the irony of this is that students who may not fair as well in a traditional school setting, the same ones who drop out of school or cannot increase their test scores, are the students who may benefit most from a flourishing performing arts program. (5)

In places like Anderson High School in Anderson Indiana, the budgetary limitations of the arts equate to fewer class periods and a larger work load for teachers. Mrs. Jackson, the school's theatre teacher, explained that she "wanted to do a musical this year, but our budget is so small that I can only barely pay the rights [which are required by law] to produce The Diviners [a play with a very small copyright fee] for next semester." (3) Mrs. Jackson is also forced to teach 10 classes over a 7 class period day in order to offer all the courses that her theatre students require. How does she do it? Her 6 theatre classes are spread over 2 class periods, while her other 10th grade Language Arts classes each have their own periods.

As of 2008, 41% of the students in Indiana public schools qualified for free or reduced lunches, which indicates that their parents have struggled to make ends meet under the stresses of little or no access to higher living wages. (6) This could account for the lack of a booster organization in Anderson High School's theatre department. "I have the same few parents who are continually involved." Mrs. Jackson also mentioned that she had tried in years past to create a booster organization, but parents were not available to help the program grow. (3)

In a large school like Anderson High School as well as other schools across Indiana, it is upsetting that theatre arts remain so overlooked and take a backseat to standardized tests, which do not accurately account for students' intelligence and can sometimes put students at higher risk of failure. (7)

When I began researching what it took to be an arts education advocate, I realized that the problem with performing arts in our schools is that there are not enough of them. Everyone is effected by the arts in some way, and Indiana schools need to make an education in the arts a much bigger priority. If you would like to learn how to be a performing arts advocate, subscribe to IndyFringe's CROWD PLAY blog.

(3) Tiffany Jackson, in an interview with Tarah Cantrell on December 7, 2011