Arts Education

A Rich Offering of Topics and Ideas at GIA's 2008 Conference

Jeanne Butler

I have always revered the work of David McCullough and recently I read remarks he made last spring that focused his audience on arts education:

One of our greatest blessings, the greatest among all that we have inherited, is the English language and its power to express things. Keep in mind, too, please, that information, as much as we love to brag about it, isn't learning. If information were learning, you could become educated by memorizing the world almanac. If you memorized the world almanac, you wouldn't be educated, you'd be weird.

So, we must not let anybody cut the budgets in our public schools for art, music, and the theater. Take a look sometime at what we spend in this country a year on potato chips or lawn care or cosmetic surgery. Of course we can afford it. 1

For many public and private funders who have toiled in arts education grantmaking, something amazing happened in Atlanta this fall—the GIA conference included a record number of arts education sessions—a total of eight! These ranged from roundtable discussions to breakout sessions and off-site sessions. All were well attended and most provided for Q & A. The range of subjects included arts integration, professional development, expanded day, No Child Left Behind, partnerships, advocacy, and community collaboration. All of this is evidence that arts education has indeed become a field and it is a major concern for many GIA members. These sessions are each summarized on this Web site under the “Interest” category for Arts and Education. (Session topics are noted below.)

With the national economic crisis, the recent election, the change of administration and Congressional makeup, and the pending reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, our public schools face enormous challenges as well as extraordinary opportunities. The impact of education legislation on the arts and how GIA members can influence policy, practice, and funding is an important agenda. There is a great deal of emotion and differing opinions on the issues involved.

As David Brooks wrote recently in a New York Times op-ed piece:

No Child Left Behind is about to be reauthorized. Everyone has reservations about that law, but it is the glaring spotlight that reveals and pierces the complacency at mediocre schools. If accountability standards are watered down, as the establishment wants, then real reform will fade.2

In a policy brief from the National Education Association on standards, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel has said:

We can think of standards in two ways—as goals that guide instruction or requirements that must be met. In either case, the education standards currently being used in this country are neither worthy goals to follow nor sufficient requirements to provide a quality education for all students. 3

Arts and creativity are acknowledged as being critical to student achievement and to preparation for skills to fully participate in our democracy and to succeed in this 21st century world. If we take nothing else from this rich array of sessions at the recent GIA conference, we gain a clearer understanding of the critical need for informed leadership, genuine partnerships, community collaborations, advocacy, and sound research.

Jeanne Butler is a freelance consultant.

Arts Ed Reports in GIA's Web Library
Sink or Swim: Professional Development in the Arts: Lifeboat for Educators?
Sink or Swim: Expanded Learning Time: A Way to Keep Balance
Sink or Swim: Integrating the Arts: A Bridge Across Subject Areas
Roundtable: What Do We Mean When We Say… Creating a Glossary of Arts Education Terms
How a Partnership Transforms American Education through the Arts
It Takes a City: Surrounding Children with the Arts
Will the Arts Be “Left Behind” in 2009?
Roundtable: Youth Arts Advocacy—In Your Schools, In Your City


  1. David Gaub McCulloch, keynote address, Centennial Founders Day Convocation, March 14, 2008, University of Mary Washington.
  2. David Brooks, New York Times, “Who Will He Choose?”; December 5, 2008.
  3. Dennis Van Roekel, National Education Association; Policy Brief: Standards: A Limited Tool for Education Improvement. Washington, DC