Guest Post: Why Ask Why and An Art Teacher’s Potential

Today, Oklahomans for the Arts features a guest post from Tulsa Arts Advocacy Captain, Britt Greenwood. The essay takes the form of an appeal to arts educators as the Tulsa artist and blogger explores, “Why ask why?” 

What is the responsibility of a teacher in the arts? It is as objective of a question as “Define art.” 

A teacher can follow the syllabus and nothing more.  A teacher can teach only on the HOW — techniques within their allotted mediums.

Diverging from the mainstream for a moment, let’s pursue a hypothetical WHAT IF, starting by answering the question:

WHY are you an artist?  

Remember, you are foremost artists, musicians, performers and then pass on your craft by assuming a teaching position.

Next question:

WHY are you a teacher of the arts?  

More than likely, the reasons you teach exceed monetary gain.  If it is only to receive a paycheck, maybe you should rethink your career because our Oklahoma students need and deserve more.  

The Hypothetical:

WHAT IF all fine art teachers took their positions one step further 
by simultaneously teaching on THE WHY behind the arts? 

What is The why? Below are measurable and immeasurable reasons we need the arts.  As instructors of the arts, you are creative and can find creative and impacting ways to share The Why without diverging from your required lesson plans.  

Artist and Arts Teacher Patrick Riley draws City Arts Center PR Director Rob Crissinger | Arts Day at the Capitol 2012

Personal Impacts
Art changes and challenges ideas, stereotypes, ideologies.  In turn, art creates open minds, out-of-the-box thinkers, innovators and creators.  Art inspires. Art can provide self-worth and a sense of accomplishment.

Educational Impacts
The arts play a central role in cognitive, motor, language and social-emotional developments.  They motivate and engage children in learning, stimulate memory, facilitate understanding, enhance symbolic communication, promote relationships and provide an avenue for building competence. (Next to Mathematics, Albert Einstein’s second passion was music, preferably Mozart).  Art decrease young people’s involvement in delinquent behavior, enhances academic outcomes for disadvantaged children and improves students’ attitudes about themselves for their future.     

Economic Impacts
In Oklahoma, the arts industry generates $314.8 million in local economic activity.  Non-profits spend $176.5 million and $138.3 million is spent by audiences.  More than 40,000 are employed by creative industries in our state, and nation-wide, creative industries make up 4.3 percent of all businesses and 2.2 percent of employees. 

Cultural Impacts
Public art speaks for cities — how much cities value culture and attract new businesses and people bringing tourism our public art attractions as well as museums, galleries and performances.  Art is also an expression of our heritage which in turn, teaches citizens about Oklahoma history.

Why Share The Why:

Oklahoma and the United States has, is and will be fighting for our creative future.  Public funds are being cut and potentially face larger cuts as each year passes. 

In schools, as funding decreases, art programs are often eliminated, leaving teachers out of a job and students devoid of the opportunity to ever know they have creative potential. 

Statewide non-profit art organizations are affected — these organizations, which your students are currently part of, or one day wish to be, may not remain as viable because decreased public funding can bulldoze art non-profits. 

How do people obtain the ability think beyond their small circles of familiarity?  They are taught, of course; exposed to alternate ideas and different ways of thinking.  The decision makers in our state, those who control how much money is allocated towards the arts and education, all can be found in their own circle of familiarity and it is up to citizens to teach them.  Teachers have the ability to reach hundreds of students a year.  One-thousand teachers instructing 100 students a year is a reach of 100,000 students. 

Implementing an understanding of the power we have as citizens is critical.  What better life lesson than a student to see their influencers, (you), pursue a cause, take action and see results.  These students are our future legislatures, activists, philanthropists and leaders if they are taught to be.  Give yourself and them something to fight for.

How to Share the Why
Utilize and support your states arts advocacy group:  Oklahomans for the Arts, (OFTA).  The WHY behind art is what drives OFTA.  Teach your students about OFTA.

Talk to people about arts advocacy and encourage students to do the same.

Introduce yourself to decision makers.  Share specific examples of how art has changed your students or encourage students visit local legislatures.  It takes as little as three emails and phone calls from constituents for a legislature to reconsider how he/she will vote on a bill.

Vote and encourage students to participate in voting after being registered.

Help campaigns go viral via social media and share these campaigns with students. 

OFTA can be utilized as a tool in your advocating with keeping you updated on the current condition of art funding, who is voting against/for the arts, calls to actions, Arts Day at the Capitol and access to arts impact data.  OFTA advocates during the legislative session.

Later this week: Britt will share some special letters from art teachers at Tulsa’s East Central Public School.

You can keep up with Britt on her blog, Tulsa Art Spot