There is certainly a need for funding arts education, but unfortunately it is frequently on the budget chopping block. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio cut the funding for arts education in the city’s public middle and high schools by roughly 70% for the 2021 school year, reducing the budget from $21.5 to just $6.5 million. In response, the 2020 New York City Arts in Education Roundtable (2020 NYCAER), an organization committed to improving, advancing, and advocating for arts education, launched an Arts Are Essential advocacy campaign to educate the City Council about the benefits of arts education funding. The campaign was endorsed by a number of notable names in the arts, including the original cast of the Broadway musical Hamilton.
“The arts give us a crucial social education — teaching us about ourselves, our cultural histories; they teach us empathy and collaboration. We must fight for every New York child to have equal access to the arts, to great teachers, to the cultural institutions in their backyards. Arts education is the backbone of a just world, and it is not optional,” Chinita Pointer, Executive Director of the Noel Pointer Foundation stated in support of the campaign on the 2020 NYCAER website.
Arts Education Budget Cuts Disproportionately Affect Students of Color
Communities of color are disproportionately affected by lack of exposure to arts in the classroom compared before the budget cuts. For example, a study done by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) found that access to music and visual arts continued to be limited along ethnic and economic lines. Black 8th-grade students taking the NAEP arts assessment scored 30 points lower than their white student peers.
Access to arts education is essential not only because it helps children express themselves and speak about issues that are important to them. Additionally, the arts advocacy group, Grantmakers in the Arts, reports that arts education also positively correlates to higher graduation rates and stronger achievement scores. University of Illinois researchers in 2014 published, “Impact of the Arts on Individual Contributions to US Civil Society.” They found that arts participation can contribute to “increased civic engagement, greater social tolerance, and reductions in other-regarding behavior.” Cutting budgets to the already under-funded arts in public schools could limit opportunities for students of color to succeed in their education and social lives.
Investing in Arts Education for Future Generations
As a philanthropist, Robert F. Smith is committed to expanding access to music and arts education. For example:
- Smith donated $1 million in 2018 to the Cultural Performance Center at the Denny Farrell Riverbank State Park in Harlem, which offers social, educational and performance activities, serving more than 60,000 people a year. Smith understood the impact of a lack of arts education. One of the focus areas of Fund II Foundation is music education, and Smith serves as founding director and President of the nonprofit granting organization. As a leader in this space, Smith is aware of a number of studies which show that music education for students can increase achievement in all academic subjects and boost critical thinking.
- In 2016, Smith made a $250,000 donation to the Sphinx Organization, a Detroit-based nonprofit, which provides musical training to students from underserved communities and runs full-scholarship summer camps. The group also performs at music venues across the country, including Carnegie Hall, the nation’s most prestigious concert stage.
- At Carnegie Hall, Smith, who serves as Chairman of the Board of Trustees, helps to champion funding for K-12 arts education programs for students. For example, in 2013, Smith contributed to Carnegie Hall’s fund to expand its LinkUp program, which creates free music education curricula for elementary students and aims to reach five million students over the next ten years.
Read more about what Robert F. Smith and other philanthropists are doing to support arts education.