Graduation rates and testing scores have been on a steady rise for the past decade in Louisiana schools. Despite drastic changes in education in the past year, students are still improving test scores and nearly 60% of Louisiana public school students went straight from graduation to college in 2014, according to nola.com.
One piece of the holistic education puzzle is not advancing like the others, though. The percentage of schools in the US that employ full-time arts specialists to teach music has decreased over the past decade, according to the U.S. Department of Education. The number of arts specialists employed full-time to teach visual arts, such as drawing and painting, has inched its way from 55% to 63% in the past decade according to the U.S. Department of Education. Though this combination of national and local statistics seem to be comparing apples and oranges, a closer look at the budget brings the issues closer to home.
You won’t find visual and performing arts funding easily in the General Fund Budget by the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board. Funding for art in EBR public schools is integrated into the financial summary through other items such as contract services, according to EBR Parish School Board Fine Arts Director Wayne Talbot. Funding is integrated in such a way that it is seemingly impossible to determine the amount of funding because “it’s so detailed and linear because of the way the finance department does everything,” Talbot said.
Musical art programs receive clear funding in the general budget. During the 2014-2015 school year music programs, materials and supplies for the music department and repairs and maintenance for music supplies received more than $350,000 in funding.
Visual art programs such as the EBR Arts Partnership Program and professional development for full-time visual art teachers are included in funding for contract services. The EBR Arts Partnership Program has partnered with the Manship Theater to, “send teaching artists into the schools,” Talbot said. The program also hosts an after-school orchestra and choral music program and integrates performances with learning. A contract was made with the Manship Theater in which the East Baton Rouge School Board paid $80,000 for supplies, artists and administration fees, and performance tickets. The contract was included in the general budget for the 2015-2016 school year and was approved.
Generally, the way funding allocated for visual arts is spent is determined at the school level, Talbot said. Leaders of the individual school communities receive funding from the school system but determine amongst themselves the amount of time and money spent on arts education, according to Talbot. Louisiana is among 25 states that require credits in the arts for graduation. However, there is no assessment of student learning in the arts, which is a requirement in 17 states. Further, the state does not specify arts education as a requirement for schools to be accredited nor does it require art instruction to be offered at the high school level.
Arts integration is a crucial part of the curriculum at Baton Rouge Center for Visual and Performing Arts, an elementary school with some of the highest test scores in the parish. Integrating visual arts, such as drawing and painting, and performing arts, such as music and theater, are key for in-depth understanding according to BRCVPA principal Candice Hartley. Many schools receive grants from various organizations to fund art programs in schools, Talbot said. However, the concern lies in schools with low test scores, who may be focused on raising test scores more than art education. One Baton Rouge high school student took matters into her own hands to make sure that students attending failing or low-income schools have a place, time and the resources to create art.
University Laboratory School senior Erin Phelps recognized the importance of art in her own academic success and started an after school art program, Art Night, in collaboration with Live2Serve. Live2Serve is a Christian organization that reaches out into impoverished areas of Baton Rouge and ministers to families by providing sports and outreach programs. Live2Serve is integrated into the community and provides a safe haven for neighborhood kids.
While trying to determine a community service project for her senior year, Phelps was inspired by a low-budget arts program she volunteered at during a mission trip to Guatemala.
Phelps decided she wanted to, “bring art to people who might not otherwise have the opportunity to create art,” she said. Phelps enlisted the help of her friend Meyer Willson to host a benefit concert to raise funds for her project. Phelps depended solely on donations and local musicians’ willingness to volunteer. “I called these people,” Phelps said, “and just had to tell them ‘look I can’t pay you.” Local musicians and businesses were eager to help and donate. The benefit raised over $1,000 to jump-start the program, which is more than Phelps imagined possible, she said.
Each Monday night Phelps and Willson hosted an Art Night for any students that wanted to come. Phelps admitted that the first Monday of the program she was nervous that no students would show up for it. To her surprise, students from age 4-15 came and continued coming each Monday. Phelps made it a point not to have a curriculum for the Art Night program. She explained that the purpose was to encourage students to, “explore art and give them a space to just create,” Phelps said.
The art night program was only expected to last for the Fall semester of 2015, but the success of the program drew in other volunteers and is still offered by Live2Serve on Mondays from 6:15-8:15 pm. For more information on Live2Serve click here.