Arts Education Advocacy in a Post-Pandemic World

National Arts in Education Week is upon us, and it is a wonderful time to reflect on where arts education has been and where it can go with impassioned arts advocacy. K-12 arts students and educators have endured a rocky road through the pandemic, and their perseverance must continue as we head into a new normal of education in the United States. 

The path to a new normal began with the complete shutdown of in-person learning. Many schools stopped useful learning activities in March 2020 for the remainder of the school year. Schools were quickly forced to implement a virtual learning platform. This came with no experience on how to instruct children away from the classroom and little familiarity with employing the technology for virtual learning to occur. As administrators and parents rushed to identify how best to limit learning loss in subjects like math, reading, and English, students and educators felt the pinch in arts education as they considered how best to move forward past administrative and technological restrictions.

What transpired was an organic continuation of the fundamentals that make the arts worth performing and teaching to our students. The world saw the masses singing and playing musical instruments to cope with isolation forced by the pandemic, and students used the arts to cope with a new way of life. 

The arts improved the social and emotional well-being of students during the pandemic. All arts activities exhibit Social Emotional Learning (SEL) that allow children to develop their empathy, self-efficacy, social awareness, and relationship building. Examples of arts education elevating students during a period of mental angst are plentiful across the country. The arts provided stability during the pandemic. When students returned to school—for some after a two-year hiatus—art teachers, who often follow children through several grades, were the only educators they recognized. This fostered the rebuilding of school communities that continues today. 

In 2020, at the outset of the pandemic, 125 national groups including Americans for the Arts endorsed the Arts Education is Essential Statement affirming the need for all students to have access to equitable arts education opportunities in dance, media arts, music, and theater. The statement, created by a coalition of national arts and arts education service organizations, was prompted by concerns that cutbacks in staff, funding, and scheduling would put K-12 arts education subject areas at risk, particularly for the traditionally underrepresented, those with special needs, and students from low-income families.

While schools throughout the country have resumed in-school learning and arts education programs are thriving in some communities, quality arts programs continue to be limited or not available at all in many schools. The renamed Arts ARE Education statement is a now full-fledged national arts education campaign recognizing that all pre-K through grade 12 students have the right to a high-quality school-based arts education in dance, media arts, music, theater, and visual arts. As a well-rounded subject area under federal education law—the Every Student Succeeds Act—music and the arts support the daily well-being of students, foster a welcoming and safe school environment, and encourage inclusivity through multiple pathways for every child’s creative voice. 

Advocates are invited to join a virtual town hall, “Arts Education for all Children in 2022-23,” Monday, Sept. 12 at 5:00 p.m. ET. The event will feature national and state leaders in a roundtable discussion about the state of arts education as the new school year begins, and breakout sessions in which participants can engage dialogues on issues ranging from teacher shortages and learning loss to federal funding opportunities and how arts education can support all learners and their well-being. The event is free, though registration is required to attend.

The Arts ARE Education campaign comes at a critical point in K-12 education. While a focus on learning loss experienced by our students is crucial, arts education must be part of that attention. The teacher shortage crisis and school budget cuts put arts education programs on the chopping block. The Arts ARE Education campaign provides tools for arts education supporters to advocate within their community and to administrators and school boards. The time is now to advocate for arts education, and we celebrate the advocacy of those who understand its importance.