Archive for January, 2010

A College Freshman Returns to her High School to Champion Arts Education

January 20, 2010

San Francisco State University freshman, theatre major and poetry slam champion, Jasmine Williams, talked to us about why she returned to her high school to talk to the next generation about a career in the arts.

Alliance: What got you so passionate about the arts?

JW: Well to be honest, when I first signed up for a theatre class in tenth grade, I took it because I just needed a few more credits and I figured it would be easy. But then, when I got in there I got introduced to all this new stuff – improv, performing, writing — that’s when I started writing poetry, and I grew to love it.

Alliance: Was it harder than you thought it would be?

JW: Yes! The teacher expected us to really work for the class! We had to write our own plays and put them on at the end of the semester. We had to do our own lighting, costume design –- whatever the audience saw, came from what we did. If we wanted to look good, we had to make ourselves look good.

Alliance: But since you were there they’ve cut most of the arts classes?

JW: Yup. No more theatre or dance, and the band is gone, too.

Alliance: So what made you go back and talk to students there about a career in the arts?

JW: Well our high school holds an Alumni College Fair each year, where they do workshops about applying for college and different careers. I remember going when I was in high school and there was no one there to talk about the arts!

I always want to contribute to my community, so when they mailed out the list of workshops this time, I said, you know what – I can really contribute now.

I emailed the high school and they agreed it was really good idea. They allowed me to take charge of the workshop. I invited two friends to come and speak about different art forms – painting, photography, design and fashion.

Alliance: What happened?

JW: It was amazing to see so many eager students there. I didn’t expect so many! The night before we only set up about thirty chairs, but then we had to bring out twenty more chairs and there were people standing. For each of three workshops!

Alliance: What was your message about the cuts to the arts programs at the school?

JW: We talked to them about that! They could see how much the programs had meant to the three of us – that we’d taken the time to come and talk to them on a Saturday. We told that it’s up to them because it’s their school. They can sign petitions, do a boycott, they can fight to get those classes back. You have to work to get those teachers back. We stressed that if they really want to have arts classes they have to work for it, no one’s just going to give it to you.

An Interview with Kathy Lynch

January 6, 2010

For our first blog of 2010, veteran arts education legislative advocate Kathy Lynch, describes some of the big changes that are brewing in California.

Alliance: Do things look any better for Arts Education programs in 2010?

KL: Yes and No. This past year, we went through two harrowing budget cycles. There were cuts, revenue enhancements and borrowing. When revenue didn’t come in as expected, more cuts were issued. It has decimated hard-won arts education programs and left the public really frustrated.

The approval rating for the legislature is in single digits and the Governor is around 20%. There’s a sense that things need to change in a fundamental way. So this crisis may actually create an opportunity for us to make some fundamental changes to how we do things in California.

Alliance: What sorts of changes are being considered?

KL: There is growing interest in revising how California’s government collects and spends tax revenue. This is something that’s been building for a very long time and now has reached a sort of pinnacle.

We haven’t looked at our taxation policy since Prop 13 some forty years ago, so we’re working with a system that’s pretty outdated.

Alliance: Can you talk about some of the changes that have taken place and how they’re impacting us?

KL There have been major shifts in the state’s economy that have left our tax system out of date and are causing these major shortfalls. We’ve moved away from manufacturing and agriculture to a more service-based economy, but our tax structure doesn’t reflect this and so we are missing out on revenue.

We’re also burdened by regulations in California, making it hard for businesses here to compete internationally.

In addition, when the bubble burst, we lost a lot of revenue and yet we continued to spend. We are still running those deficits.  This past year several reports were released recommending major changes to address these issues.

Alliance: Can you tell us more about the reports?

KL: There’s CalForward (url), a blue-ribbon committee created by the Governor and legislators, that has released proposals for everything from changing the 2/3 vote requirement for budgets and taxation policy to looking at safety net issues and education.

They’re recommending things like Pay‐As‐You‐Go-Spending, which would require that new programs and initiatives identify a funding source for any new spending; Base Budgets on Results, which would require clear goals for every program, measuring their effectiveness, and regularly fixing or eliminating programs that aren’t working. They’re also recommending Majority‐Vote Budgets, so that our state budget  can be passed with  a  simple  majority,  reducing  the  likelihood  of  lengthy, wasteful  budget  standoffs.

Alliance: How might this connect to arts education programs?

KL: What’s happening right now is that we get a great arts education program in place, work hard over the years to get the block grant to support those programs, but then the whole thing gets pulled out from under us –- not because the policy shifted, not because there was less commitment but because of our financial restraints. So the hope is that these changes will provide more stability for education programs.

Alliance: What other reports are out there?

KL: There’s also a report from the Commission on the 21st Century Economy, (url) convened by Governor Schwarzenegger, to examine our current tax policy. It contains recommendations that would dramatically overhaul the state’s tax structure, bringing it up-to-date with some of the changes in California’s economy that I mentioned.

Alliance: How does arts education fit into discussions about a 21st Century economy?

KL: Well, I think there’s a growing recognition from this and other research about California that arts education plays a vital role in the state’s economy.  People see that arts education contributes to kids’ cognitive development and to increasing graduating rates. They also understand that comprehensive arts education fosters the creativity and innovation needed to build a competitive workforce and contribute to our state’s prosperity.