Arts education is critical for Juneau

  • By Ben Brown
  • Sunday, July 1, 2018 11:31am
  • Opinion

The Juneau Arts & Humanities Council (JAHC) is the designated art agency for Alaska’s capital city. Arts education is an essential part of JAHC’s mission. Extensive research proves the beneficial effects of arts education on student performance. One gauge of how the arts improve student performance is the SAT: students who take four years of arts classes do much better on the both verbal and math components. Arts education doesn’t just impart artistic appreciation and ability, it leads to better cognitive ability.

Beyond better performance on standardized tests, arts education enhances student capability and performance in other areas, including thinking and social skills, motivation to learn and an overall positive school environment. Economically disadvantaged students are less likely to complete high school, let alone go beyond, and arts education is one of the best ways to counter this unfortunate reality. Activities such as music, dance, theater and painting boost self-esteem and self-confidence, and help young people overcome fears and insecurities about their ability to succeed.

Arts education reduces conflict among students and creates a better overall learning environment. At the same time, arts education increases student motivation to learn and significantly reduces tardiness and absenteeism. When more students come to school on time, ready to work and learn the full day, each individual pupil benefits, while the whole classroom functions more smoothly and teachers are able to do their jobs better.

JAHC has a number of arts education programs which directly improve the lives of young people in Juneau. Artists-in-Schools places visual and performing artists directly into Juneau School District (JSD) classrooms throughout the academic year. Artists-in-Schools requires a school to apply for a grant and then match these funds with money from the school. Each school handles arrangements at its end and pays for supplies and artists’ travel costs. These residencies are very popular with students, who enjoy the infusion of exciting, different activities in the academic routine, and emerge refreshed and inspired at the residencies’ conclusion. Teaching artists not only instruct students, but also provide professional development to other teachers to augment their didactic abilities.

JAHC connects young people in Juneau with opportunities outside of the school environment offered by other Juneau arts organizations. Perseverance Theatre offers student matinées for many productions as well as intensive theater workshops. Juneau’s public libraries have student-oriented programs covering an array of subjects from basic library skills to illustration in literature to how to use e-books. The Juneau Symphony Orchestra brings fourth and fifth graders to its spring concerts to provide an introductory experience to classical music to these young people. Juneau Jazz & Classics offers free concerts during its annual festival and sends visiting artists into classrooms to teach. The Alaska Youth Choir brings together students aged six and older to learn choral skills and foment a lifelong love of singing and music.

JAHC’s partnership with JSD is one of many that achieves great results with limited resources, and others are similar in the way they boost positive outcomes. Both JAHC and JSD belong to the Kennedy Center’s Partners in Education program, which provides teachers with professional development in order to expand their students’ artistic literacy. For the past three years the Artful Teaching Project has helped dozens of JSD teachers integrate the arts into all curricular areas with instruction from local teaching artists and visiting arts integration experts.

An additional JAHC arts education program is Any Given Child, and all of Juneau can be proud to be the 11th site in the nation chosen for this program of the Kennedy Center. Any Given Child focuses on enhancing arts-teaching ability, but it further seeks to ensure all students from kindergarten through 12th grade have full access to arts education by engaging the broadest spectrum of the community including artists, families, businesses and policy-makers. Any Given Child programming includes a robust schedule of arts excursions, from Sealaska Heritage Institute’s Walter Soboleff Building to the Juneau Symphony, Juneau Dance Theatre and Perseverance.

JAHC will continue to make providing arts education a top priority in conjunction with JSD, and management of Centennial Hall and the New JACC project will only make this mission likelier to succeed.

• Benjamin Brown is a lifelong Alaskan who lives in Juneau. He works for the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council and serves as Chairman of the Alaska State Council on the Arts. My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.

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