Expanding Arts Education in New York City

New York City got some excellent news the other day when Mayor De Blasio and Comptroller Scott Stringer announced that as part of the new fiscal budget, $23 million will be spent to expand arts education in the city’s schools. This news follows a report issued by Comptroller Stringer in April which found that many of the city’s public schools offer no education in the arts; that 20 percent had no arts teachers—and that the shortage is particularly stark in low-income areas.

Unfortunately, this is nothing new: for years, the arts have been treated as a step-child in our country’s primary and secondary schools, and as a life-long educator, I find this heart-breaking. Over the years, first as a student, then as a professor, advisor, mentor, and administrator in New York’s public higher education system, I have witnessed first-hand the transformative power of education. And it is especially here at FIT, that I see—almost daily—talented, passionately motivated, and creative students determined to learn and to turn their dreams into reality. However, I think that few of our students—however bright and gifted—could have reached FIT’s doors without the kind of educational background that provides sustained encouragement, training, and exposure to the arts. As Dana Gioia, the former NEA chairman, once said, “Adult life begins in a child’s imagination.”

I myself recall the influence that my school’s art appreciation classes–and even piano lessons–had on me as a child. And yet today, education in the arts is considered, as Mr. Stringer said, “expendable.” Federal testing mandates and plummeting public funds notwithstanding, many people—even educators—think of the arts as add-ons: hobbies, fun extracurricular activities, but certainly not pivotal to a child’s education.

They are wrong. As studies show again and again that youngsters who participate in the arts on a steady basis for just one year are far more likely to achieve academically in every area from math and science to writing. Their attendance records soar; they read for pleasure nearly twice as much as their peers and become far more likely to participate in community service. Some may grow up to become artists or designers, as many of our students do, but all of them are indelibly enriched and undoubtedly become more complete human beings.

That is why I believe we are fortunate to have leaders in New York who understand the necessity of arts education in our schools and are willing to invest in it. I hope their efforts encourage others across the country to do the same.