So often, due to lack of funding, art is the first thing that is cut from the school curriculum. We who make it are always outraged. We know art matters, although we can't always articulate why it matters. In an inspiring recent article, Charles Blow wrote about a Head Start program in West Harlem in a renovated building formerly filled with illegal activities and shady characters that is now filled with art and light. The poor children who attend the program are thriving. Head Start is a national program for underprivileged preschoolers that provides education, food, health services and other services to prepare kids for school. The "other services" in this location happen to be inspiration and beauty through nature and art. And if the children's art is up on the walls, they learn pride as well. The issues raised in this article reveal an answer: children need hope in order to live and by viewing and making art they develop and maintain that hope.
We all need hope and inspiration. It is interesting that in harder economic times we tend to buy small things to keep ourselves going. I recently read that sales of nail polish, flowers, and handbags go up when the going is rough. Something beautiful makes us feel better, lifts our spirits. For some reason the lifting of the spirits is not in the California State Standards for art, although "aesthetic valuing" is. Many of the teachers know about the lifting of the spirits, thankfully, and are able to inspire as well as to instruct.
Ironically, at some public schools in New York, fire inspectors told the administrations that most of the art had to be removed from the walls. They said, "…no more than twenty percent of your wall space can have things hanging on it that are flammable." The unhappy schools have mostly complied, although I wonder if there might be some alternatives to the all or mostly nothing approach. The schools know that the kids are happiest surrounded by art and especially by art they create themselves.
Many of us believe that we should continue to make and fund art. We've heard the stories of kids who could finally express themselves, who were visual learners, and who found pride through their artistic talent. It is heartening to hear that art inspires hope. Hope isn't an extra quality to be given or taken as funding permits. Hope is essential to education.