Cultivating Demand for the Arts

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 Cultivating Demand for the Arts

We have proposed that healthy demand for the arts is critical to a vibrant nonprofit arts sector, that demand is stimulated by a certain kind of arts learning, and that arts policies focused on supporting the supply of and access to works of art are not sufficient for developing demand for the arts. We have described what public schools and other institutions are doing to provide arts learning, as well as the strategies SAAs have adopted to support such learning. Overall, we found that despite some progress over the past 30 years, neither education policies nor arts policies have made the cultivation of demand for the arts a priority. Many people across the country—most importantly teachers, but also philanthropic funders, community and school leaders, and arts professionals—are deeply committed to providing more and better arts learning to the young, but their work is often carried out within an infrastructure offering no more than fragile financial support and little recognition. In particular, the critical role that arts learning plays in supporting the entire cultural sector is insufficiently understood. This chapter summarizes our main points and their implications for SAAs and other policymakers.

Key Points

Cultivating Demand Is a Necessary Focus of Arts Policy

The arts represent a unique form of communication that can occur between artists and the individuals who encounter their works. For this communication to provide its full benefits, those individuals need to experience the work in a way that engages their emotions, stimulates their senses, and challenges their minds to a process of discovery. In other words, the aesthetic experience requires works of art that can elicit such a response (supply), opportunities to encounter those works of art (access), and people who seek out such encounters and can find value in them (demand). It follows that arts policies should support all of these conditions.

Yet for various reasons, investment in demand, by which we mean developing the capacity of individuals to engage in aesthetic experiences, has been neglected in both arts and education policy over several decades. It is our view that without this investment, audiences for the arts will continue to diminish despite heavy investments in supply and access. We propose that policies be balanced to support supply, access, and demand, and that the overarching goal of these policies be to increase the number and quality of aesthetic experiences. These experiences are a better measure of the cultural health of a nation than are the number and quality of its works of art.

The Knowledge and Skills That Enable Aesthetic Experiences
Can Be Taught

Demand for the arts can be cultivated by teaching people of all ages how to enjoy and understand works of art. The best way to accomplish this, according to those who have addressed the issue, is to help individuals develop four types of knowledge and skills, preferably in combination:

  1. the capacity for aesthetic perception, or the ability to see, hear, and feel what works of art have to offer
  2. the ability to create artistically in an art form
  3. historical and cultural knowledge that enriches the understanding of works of art
  4. the ability to interpret works of art, discern what is valuable in them, and draw meaning from them through reflection and discussion with others.

National and state arts content standards that now define what students should learn in each arts discipline at every grade level embody just such a comprehensive approach.

Educational Support for This Kind of Learning Is Weak

We do not know how much arts learning—in terms of frequency of instruction and amount of time spent in arts study—is enough to attract people into long-term engagement with the arts. But a few studies have suggested that prolonged instruction has the greatest effects on behavior and level of involvement (Heath, Soep, and Roach, 1998; McCarthy et al., 2004; Hetland et al., 2007). To describe the arts instruction available today, we inventoried the institutional infrastructure for the support of arts learning: K–12 public schools, colleges and universities, and programs offered beyond the classroom by arts organizations, community organizations, and community schools of the arts.

What our inventory revealed about public schools is that most students are not provided enough time on task to learn the skills and knowledge associated with building their capacity for aesthetic experience. Arts content standards have been almost universally mandated by the states and are broadening teaching practices, but state, local, and district policies are not providing the resources or time in the school day to implement these standards, and states are not holding schools accountable for student progress in learning these skills.

Arts organizations, colleges, and other institutions have been developing promising programs that complement school-based arts education. Both museums and performing arts centers have programs that focus on developing an aesthetic response to their works of art in children of all ages and their teachers. Some colleges offer to support their local public schools by providing access to their own infrastructure. Public school teachers, for example, are given free access to arts classes, high school students have access to arts classes at reduced cost, and college arts students are interning in elementary school classrooms. Additionally, some after-school arts-based programs are drawing on local teaching talent and exceptional venues to provide youth arts learning that aligns with state arts standards. Many of these programs were developed to bolster the capacity of under-resourced public schools. Despite their growing contributions to the arts learning infrastructure, however, these programs cannot substitute for strong, sequential arts education in the schools.

What we found on adult arts learning is confined almost entirely to the formal arts education provided by colleges and universities, which offer the broadest range of arts courses, including professional education and training for artists, scholars, and teachers and numerous courses for general students, community residents (through extension divisions), and high school students in the vicinity. These courses are largely voluntary and thus tend to reach learners who are already inclined toward participation. What little we know about opportunities for adult arts learning beyond college and university comes from arts organizations, which offer very few programs targeted to adults. And another avenue for learning, the public discourse about the arts carried out by cultural journalists and critics, has been declining in most newspapers across the country.

State Arts Policy Has Emphasized Supply and Access, Not Demand

Historically, grantmaking has been the primary function of SAAs. Our analysis of data on SAA grant recipients reveals that arts grantmaking at the state level has been heavily weighted toward arts organizations for more than 20 years. During this time, education institutions have received only a fraction of the funding received by arts organizations, and this fraction has remained remarkably constant. In terms of types of activities funded, institutional support has accounted for almost one-half of the total value of SAA grants, whereas grants directly supporting youth and adult arts learning have accounted for less than 10 percent. The percentage devoted to arts learning rises when we account for all SAA grants that have an educational component, but the educational nature of the programming supported by such grants is questionable. In most states, they are not part of a systematic, comprehensive strategy to promote youth or adult arts learning, and the extent to which they serve to cultivate demand is unclear.

In fact, the youth education initiatives of the NEA and SAAs were historically at least as much about employing artists as about educating K–12 students, as acknowledged by a number of SAAs as well as the NEA. The NEA and SAAs initially focused their attention on small-scale residency programs that reached relatively few students and contributed little to making the arts an essential part of the K–12 public school curriculum. They saw these programs as opportunities to provide enrichment to children and, at the same time, support artists and arts organizations. They neither sought nor were asked to take a bigger role in formal instruction in the arts, which was seen by all as the responsibility (if, in hindsight, not the priority) of the schools.

After 40 years of policy and action aligned with this assumption, however, arts participation has declined, arts instruction in the schools has lost ground, and some SAAs are devoting greater attention to cultivating demand. The most notable evidence of this comes from SAAs that have moved beyond grantmaking, leveraging their position at the nexus of state government and the arts community to influence arts education policy. Two examples of such SAAs—those in Rhode Island and New Jersey (see Chapter Six for details)—are helping to build and maintain collaborations among the various stakeholders in arts education: arts specialists, classroom teachers, school administrators, parent-teacher organizations, arts policymakers, elected officials, and artists and arts organizations. Their goal is to develop policies that support comprehensive and sequential arts education in the public schools and to build public support for those policies.

Policy Implications

State Arts Agencies

Our suggestion that public support of the arts has been too narrowly focused on supply and access is not meant to imply that SAAs should start balancing their grant funding equally among supply, access, and demand. As we have noted, even if SAAs were to devote all of their resources to cultivating demand, their modest budgets would prevent them from making much of an improvement in the K–12 school system that delivers arts education. Similarly, there is little that SAAs can do through grantmaking alone that will encourage adults to seek arts experiences.

Instead, we suggest that SAAs and other funders and policymakers take a broad view of the support infrastructure for arts learning to determine where and how they might have the most leverage in spurring improvements. As our two examples show, SAAs can very effectively use tools other than grantmaking to improve policy and practice. We recognize that SAA priorities for cultivating demand will differ because of variations across states in policy environments, cultural-sector capacities, and demographics. There are, however, specific questions, described next, that SAAs should consider in identifying and evaluating their policy options.

What Is the Status of Youth Arts Learning in the State? Before SAAs can begin to help remediate problems in youth arts learning, they must better understand the overall arts learning environment, including community providers as well as public schools. How many hours per week are various art forms offered, and who are the instructors? Do classroom teachers have the arts training they need to teach to the national arts standards? Is there equitable provision of arts education? If not, where are the gaps? Thorough “censuses” of arts education have been conducted in a handful of states, and SAAs have played a lead role in these efforts. The data collected have allowed policymakers to answer the questions about the arts learning environment and to develop strategies for improvement.

In New Jersey, for example, the SAA and other policymakers used a statewide survey to collect data on arts education in the public schools. They constructed an arts education index that measures the adequacy of arts education in every school and school district across the state. The full dataset is available online, so parents and others can easily compare their school’s performance to that of others. In this way, the information is not only helping to establish priorities for action among many state players, but is also promoting competition among schools and school districts to provide the best arts education.

What Can SAAs Do to Raise Public Awareness of the Need for More Intensive and More Comprehensive Arts Learning Within and Beyond the Schools? For time and money to be made available for arts education, state residents and their political leaders must be convinced that arts education should be a basic part of K–12 education. SAAs have a unique position within state government for advocating the benefits of arts engagement and the necessity of promoting arts engagement through education. 1 As shown by our examples, strategies for raising public awareness can entail much more than a public relations campaign. In New Jersey, the arts education index offers guidance on where to invest resources, and it also gets the attention of parents and school administrators. In Rhode Island, the statewide arts high school graduation requirement is encouraging students to take more arts courses, parents to examine school offerings in the arts more closely, and schools to ensure that their arts courses align with state and national content standards.

How Can SAAs Best Contribute to Policy Changes That Will Strengthen Arts Education in the Public School System? No one group of stakeholders has the resources or leverage to single-handedly bring about change in general education policy at the state level. SAAs are likely to be more effective in bringing about change at this level as influencers and conveners of stakeholders rather than as grantmakers. However, the following strategies also appear promising for SAAs:

  • Support comprehensive standards-based programs in the schools.
  • Encourage colleges to offer arts courses for high school students and lifelong learning for community residents.
  • Support the arts education programs of cultural and other community organizations that are the most likely to cultivate a community of individuals who value the arts.

How Can SAAs Best Contribute to Policy Changes That Will Strengthen Arts Learning in the Community? For youth arts learning, SAAs can work with arts organizations and others to ensure they understand what the state and national content standards in the arts imply for their programs. Many SAAs are beginning to condition their awards of artist residency grants on alignment with the content standards and integration into classroom arts curriculum. They could link grants awarded to organizations for educational purposes directly to support of the standards, and they could promote programs to increase information and discourse about the arts through multiple media. To the extent that SAAs are in a position to see the system of arts learning provision as a whole, they may also be able to advise artists, arts organizations, and other arts learning providers on gaps in the system—and to fund individuals and institutions able to fill those gaps.

How Can SAAs Identify and Promote Exemplary Programs That Are Likely to Build Long-Term Engagement in the Arts? SAAs are uniquely situated to recognize and publicize programs relating to arts learning that are considered exceptional by experts in the field, such as outstanding

  • arts courses for children and young adults provided in schools or throughout school districts, after-school programs, and programs offered by arts institutions and community organizations
  • teacher development programs, including aesthetic education for general classroom teachers and arts specialists
  • teacher preparation programs in higher education
  • community-based programs for adult learning in the arts
  • local collaborative networks in support of multiple goals relating to arts learning.

By drawing attention to such programs, SAAs can help to simultaneously build capacityin the field and develop public awareness.

Other Policymakers

For other policymakers and funders, the key implication of our work is that greater attention must be directed to cultivating demand among Americans, especially the young. Since the benefits of the arts are created by compelling experiences with works of art, providing more individuals with the skills that enable them to have these experiences should be a key focus of cultural policy. Earlier studies have offered long lists of recommendations for improving arts education in the schools, recommendations that are still relevant today.2 Rather than repeating them here, we make four broad recommendations.

Support Research to Inform Policy. We have already described the importance of collecting data on the status of arts learning at the state and local levels. Beyond that, additional research on the relationship between arts learning and long-term arts involvement is needed. In the past 20 years, there have been hundreds of social science studies of the effects of arts learning on non-arts outcomes (such as academic performance and self-esteem); but there have been only a few empirical studies of the effects of arts learning on arts participation later in life—and they found a strong correlation. More research is needed to test what the conceptual literature (and personal observation) supports: that developing individuals’ skills of aesthetic perception and interpretation, for example, can increase their satisfaction from encounters with works of art; and the higher their satisfaction, the more they demand such experiences. The resultant findings could possibly make the case for increasing resources for broad-based arts learning at all levels.

Support Collaborative Programs That Increase the Amount and Breadth of Arts Learning. We have offered a broad view of the support infrastructure for arts learning so that policymakers can determine where and how they could have the most leverage in spurring improvements. For the young, for example, we have highlighted critical gaps in arts learning opportunities and promising programs that are addressing these gaps, such as those offered by arts organizations and higher education institutions to complement school-based instruction. Institutional leaders, local and national foundations, and public agencies should identify and support these and other programs that increase and broaden arts learning opportunities and are likely to draw young people into engaging arts experiences.

Advocate for Change in State Education Policy to Bring Arts Education to All Students. Since the 1970s, increased time for arts instruction has been needed at all grade levels in the public schools, and this need cannot be met without significant changes being made in state education policy. Arts content standards now exist in nearly every state, but K–12 children will not be provided with more and better arts education until states follow through with an accountability system and ask districts to report on arts instruction provided and learning achieved. Until state boards of education require such results, arts standards and mandates will often be ignored. As many have pointed out, current political pressures have created an environment in which what is tested dictates what is taught (Center on Education Policy, 2007). If the arts are to join the ranks of tested subjects, standards-based assessments consistent with the content and nature of the arts and arts education will have to be developed and funded at the state and district levels (Woodworth et al., 2007, p. 18). Including a year of arts study as a requirement for high school graduation and college entrance is another important policy step, one that a number of states have already taken.

Build a Coalition for Arts Learning That Represents the Entire Infrastructure for Supply and Demand. Achieving change in state education policy, however, will require diverse communities to reach out to one another and forge a common agenda. The key players will be the arts policy community (including the NEA and SAAs), leaders in the arts community (such as directors of major arts organizations and the business leaders on their boards), and the professional organizations that represent thousands of arts educators. Only by working together can they persuade the general education community—and the American public—of the importance of arts learning as a means of drawing more Americans into engagement with the culture around them. These key players have often worked at cross-purposes (Hope, 1992, 2004), but they have also collaborated successfully in recent years, developing arts content standards at both the national and state levels. They can build on this success.

The more these communities understand their interdependency, the more their collaboration will evolve and strengthen. We have emphasized that arts learning plays a more critical role in the cultural sector than is generally realized. Those who function largely on the supply side in our supply/demand framework have long been aware that their financial survival depends on the existence of adequate demand but may not fully recognize the role of arts learning in cultivating that demand. Arts educators and the faculty who train them often focus on developing future artists and may not understand the extent to which they could help create future audiences. Arts policymakers have focused so successfully on stimulating production that they may be contributing to an imbalance between supply and demand that hobbles the entire sector. If the arts are to thrive and evolve in the future, all these communities need to recognize and respect the contributions of arts educators to the cultivation of ongoing demand and advocate for state policies that support comprehensive arts learning for all children.

The main beneficiaries of these actions will be future generations of Americans. In particular, stronger state policies in support of arts education will help expand public engagement in the arts and spread the benefits of such engagement more equitably. As Gee (2004, p. 131) puts it, the purpose of arts education is the “democratizing of the opportunity to get what art offers.” Unless a united coalition of influential stakeholders succeeds in this purpose, Americans may have to abandon the ideal of democratized arts and acknowledge that the arts are going to become, like literacy in an earlier age, largely the province of the educated elite.

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1 Note that there is a difference between broad-based advocacy and political lobbying. Advocacy in the public interest is not only a right but a responsibility of government agencies, but it can easily be hijacked by more-parochial concerns about agency budgets and benefits for specific constituents.

2 See NEA, 1988, for instance.