Bend prides itself in supporting the arts as part of a vibrant local economy. Still a gap exists—as it does in many U.S. cities—separating artists and their art from “everyone else” with labels like: elite, expensive, avant-garde, abstract, decorative and creative. Commentary by Rebecca Ann S. Kirk
In The Workhouse at the Old Ironworks I watched a professional artist building a pattern for a hat. Two-dimensional shapes cut out of brown paper were being transferred to fabric. The first hat she built didn’t fit properly because the dimensions were off. Quietly watching her work, I realized she was using math: proportion, fractions and geometry, as well as basic problem solving, trial and error, visioning, imagination and creativity.
Bend prides itself in supporting the arts as part of a vibrant local economy. Still a gap exists—as it does in many U.S. cities—separating artists and their art from “everyone else” with labels like: elite, expensive, avant-garde, abstract, decorative and creative. Cultural assumptions like these are perhaps one of the reasons why art is perceived as a hobby, elective and a product rather than a learning process for students of all ages and a means-to-an-end that can inherently teach many valuable skills.
In fact, decades of research show that quality arts learning can heighten engagement and develop critical thinking, communication, persistence and collaboration (to name a few)—all essential to a person’s growth and development as a successful learner, creative problem solver and productive citizen. The arts also build connections between people, institutions and neighborhoods to foster vibrant interconnected communities.
The newest tool to help community members champion the arts for is ArtsEdSearch.org; a free user-friendly website featuring the most rigorous arts education research. The content focuses on academic, cognitive, personal and social outcomes of learning in and through all the art forms. Launched in April 2012 by the Arts Education Partnership, ArtsEdSearch is a resource for research, education policy and advocacy at the local, state and national levels. This site empowers users with evidence-based syntheses and provides an online forum to connect to other like-minded advocates across the nation.
Are you a parent who would like to see more arts in the schools for your child, but need solid evidence to show the PTA that the arts improve test scores? Or a community leader who knows the many merits of arts in communities but needs to convince the city council? Perhaps you are a local teacher who would like to advocate to the district office for arts-based professional development.
Maybe you’re applying for a grant to fund an arts partnership but need to demonstrate the potential outcomes to the local foundation. ArtsEdSearch has material for all of these scenarios. So check it out, spread the word! Get involved and make local habit.
Rebecca Ann S. Kirk, a Bend-based community arts educator, is a research consultant for the Arts Education Partnership and helped build ArtsEdSearch.org. She is interested in feedback and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.