Arts education: access equity in Northern Nevada

I just came back from the Partners in Education annual meeting in our nation’s capital. I saw Pink Martini at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and Ari Shapiro hopped in and sang a couple of tunes, providing a very Washington moment. In the middle of the set, Thomas Lauderdale invited someone to the stage who could play a four-handed piece of piano music with him; he even offered up the sheet music so it wouldn’t be that hard.

Laughing, I thought to myself, “Where else but at the Kennedy Center in an audience of arts education advocates would he find someone with enough chutzpah to hop on stage and sightread with him?” For a few moments, there were no takers, then this adorable kid, 9 or 10 years old, comes up to, you know, look at the music and see if she could help him out, because she plays piano. She decided there were too many notes on the page, but she got applause for even thinking about it. Then some guy does get up, says yes, he can play it, was asked which part, said it didn’t matter and then they did it. I love this memory.

Back in Reno, I wonder how we can work to create a culture where arts education matters. Talking to Susan Boskoff of the Nevada Arts Council about this issue, she said she is hearing many people advocate for the “Three A’s” in education — academics, arts and athletics. Sounds great to me, but there are many students in Northern Nevada whose parents can’t pay for music lessons or dance classes.

The only arts exposure they get is in our schools. Something that concerns me is equal access to arts experiences and arts education. Many fine arts education programs from providers like the Nevada Museum of Art, the Reno Philharmonic Orchestra, Artown and many others are working to give kids access to music, theater, dance, visual arts and creative writing experiences, but I think we are missing an opportunity. Arts integration provides a means to teach to the arts curriculum as well as to deepen engagement and learning in core curricular areas.

We just finished the first of four workshops with Washoe County School District introducing the Kennedy Center definition of arts integration to educators. Here is that definition: Arts integration is an approach to teaching in which students construct and demonstrate understanding through an art form. Students engage in a creative process that connects an art form and another subject area and meets evolving objectives in both.

I am hoping that through these workshops funded by WCSD and the city of Reno, many teachers will change their practice to include an arts integration approach. When we provide meaningful professional development to our educators, they, too, become more engaged.

When you provide one child with an arts experience, either as an audience member or participant, that child’s life can be deeply affected. When you train a teacher to include the arts in their classroom, all of the students the teacher will inspire through the years of that career can be impacted. At Sierra Arts, we do both. We put artists in classrooms with students for one-on-one contact and train teachers to create systemic change.

If you are interested in our arts education programming or want to attend an upcoming workshop, go to sierra-arts.org. I think it is worth it. I hope the parents of students in Northern Nevada do, too.

Originally written for and published by the Reno Gazette Journal.

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