This guest column appeared in Times News Weekly and the Queens Courier on Thursday, April 7, 2016.
The arts and culture are a vital part of any education, and a wide variety of studies have demonstrated significant positive impacts on young people resulting from the presence of arts education in schools, including improved academic outcomes, increased graduation rates, and enhanced career opportunities.
Unfortunately, the last several decades have witnessed significant cuts in arts education, resulting in a situation highlighted by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer in 2014, in which a large number of New York City schools did not have any arts in the classroom.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York City Council have made a significant and overdue investment to address the inequities last year, yet more work needs to be done. Flushing Town Hall is one of a number of cultural institutions that are stepping in to fill the gap.
We work with 56 schools annually to provide multidisciplinary programs in visual arts, dance, music, and theater, which encompass the many world cultures of our diverse community of Flushing, Queens. This year, our school performances feature Hip-Hop, American Indian music and dance, Irish and African American music and dance, Mexican music, Taiwanese Puppetry, theater for autistic students, and more.
Cultural institutions don’t just substitute for arts in the classroom when it’s missing – they provide a unique service. By partnering with the many cultural institutions in the city that offer robust arts education programs, schools have access to hundreds of artistic disciplines, representing cultural traditions from around the world.
There’s no way to offer all of this diversity and variety only through classroom teachers. When we think about improving arts education in New York City schools, three major things are needed.
First, there must be an increase in the number of classroom teachers, so every school has several certified arts instructors on staff (these teachers also provide the environment and contact necessary to bring in partnerships with outside institutions).
Second, there must be an increase in the Department of Education’s budget for contracting with cultural institutions; the recent increase of $23 million for arts education in Fiscal Year 2015 only included $2.2 million for these contracts, a drop in the bucket for a $23 billion agency that serves 1.1 million students in 1,800 schools.
And, finally, there must be an increase in the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA) budget to provide more operating support for institutions that offer these services.
Flushing Town Hall’s Education department serves 8,500 students and another 4,000 senior citizens and audience members at family programs and workshops, with only one part-time and two full-time staff members. We are straining as we encounter increased demand for our services amid severe cuts exacted to cultural institutions by the previous mayoral administration.
This is true for our colleagues across the city. So additionally, we urge an increase of $40 million to DCLA’s Fiscal Year 2017 budget to support the hundreds of cultural institutions across the city.
We recognize that New York City Council Education Committee Chair Daniel Dromm, a former classroom teacher, appreciates the value of arts education in our schools. We encourage his Committee colleagues to passionately support the cultural sector’s request for an increase to the DCLA budget.
By doing so, they will deliver a clear message that our cultural institutions provide significant benefits not only to our schools, but to our students, their families, and all communities across this great city.
Ellen Kodadek is the executive and artistic director of Flushing Town Hall.