Archive for October, 2010

A “Both/And” Approach to CTE and VAPA

October 21, 2010

By Mark Slavin, Vice President of Education
Music Center: Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County and
Board Chair, California Alliance for Arts Education

The California Alliance for Arts Education was very pleased to see the Governor veto AB 2446 (Furutani). This measure would have watered-down California’s already weak high school graduation requirements by allowing students to take a career technical education course, in lieu of a course in the arts or foreign language. The battle over this legislation is part of an ongoing debate about the role and purpose of public high schools. Specifically, what is the proper balance between preparing students for college and providing tangible employment skills to help students gain jobs right out of high school? Or is this a false choice? Can we imagine high schools in which every course engages kids in project-based learning, real world applications, and the development of tangible skills for the workplace?

It was unfortunate that the battle over AB 2446 placed advocates for arts education and advocates for career and technical education in opposing camps. In fact, many of us want the same thing – high schools that offer diverse options for students to find their passion and explore specific career paths. Arts advocates often cite testimonials from young people stating their arts course was the only reason they came to school every day. Why not expand our vision to imagine high schools that offer BOTH foundational courses in the arts AND opportunities to deepen career and technical skills?

Advocates for arts education have worked hard to place the arts as part of the core academic courses required for admission California’s public colleges and universities. The approved courses offer students much more than art-making and performance skills. Consistent with the Visual and Performing Arts Framework, courses are expected to help students analyze and make critical judgments about works of art. Students are also expected to study historical and cultural context and to make connections to other subject areas and career opportunities.

Having achieved this status in the core curriculum, many advocates for arts education are protective of these hard-fought gains. Accordingly, we want to ensure the arts retain academic rigor and are taught by highly-qualified teachers. If these values are lost, we fear arts education could be further marginalized and become more vulnerable to cuts. But in defending our vision of “quality” arts education, are we closing the door to exciting new partnerships with career and technical education? In the rush to point out the limitations of a course taught by an industry professional lacking a teaching credential, are we denying students powerful learning opportunities?

Advocates for arts education often assert the arts are essential to prepare students for California’s creative economy. We cite data about the scope of the economic impact from the entertainment industry, the performing arts, museums, video game design, architecture, and fashion design, to name a few of the important job sectors. In our passion to defend “standards-based arts education,” let us not close the door to other arts learning opportunities with a direct link to careers. When a student becomes inspired by an introductory theatre course, we should applaud their desire to take a course in set design taught by a working professional. When a student finds their passion in a visual art course, who would be against taking another course from a working graphic designer?

Before we rush in to another “us against them” battle in Sacramento, I am hoping we can explore new alliances and common cause with advocates for career technical education. Together let us try to expand, not narrow, the range of options open to students in our high schools.

Editor’s Note: The California Alliance has recently published a white paper that explores the overlapping goals and requirements of CTE and VAPA studies, and advocates for a “Both/And” approach. Click here to read the paper.

Student Arts Advocates: “You Need to Be an Arts Advocate”

October 7, 2010

A few months ago, the Alliance was contacted by Student Advocates for the Arts (SAA), based at Columbia University. We’re delighted to share their terrific advocacy video, “You Need to Be an Arts Advocate” as well as some lessons learned from outgoing SAA president Jonathan Lewis.

Can you share a defining moment in your advocacy work?
For several years, I’d participated in the Arts Advocacy Day in Albany. A group of students headed up there to show our support each year, but usually ended up on the sidelines. This past year, we came out to support our friend, Richard Kessler, the Executive Director of the Center for Arts Education who was to give testimony before the Joint Meeting of the Committees on the Arts Hearing at the New York State Senate for Arts Day 2010. However, there was a snowstorm, and Mr. Kessler was unable to be there, so he called and asked me to take his place.

After several in-transit cell phone calls with Kessler and a quick re-drafting of his remarks, I found myself in front of a panel of legislators, providing testimony alongside many directors and presidents of arts non-profits and arts service organizations. My testimony went by in a rush (captured on tape – you can see me in the video) but the experience stayed with me. It really brought home that not only was I (or any other student) capable of stepping into this role, but it is also opportunities like these that truly make things happen. It’s easy to stand on the sidelines and wait to be asked, but I realize now that it is also important for students to take that extra initiative and put themselves out there. Because you never know – the day might come when we’re suddenly needed, and we have to be ready rise to those occasions.

Have you passed that message on to other student advocates?
We definitely have at the local level. We started a gathering of other college students in New York City who are advocating for arts education. It’s very informal; we meet at a bar. It’s been a great way to build relationships with other advocates, to learn what other people are up to.

There are also Student Advocates for the Arts chapters and other student arts advocacy groups across the country who are doing great work. At the moment we only tend to meet each other on Arts Advocacy Day in Washington D.C. So part of our planning process for new projects is to reach out to more students and work together on a national level.

This past year, we were also contacted by high school students in Florida who wanted to take some action to prevent cuts to arts programs at their school. It was great to be able to share some of what we’d learned through trial and error with them.

What advice did you give them?
Well, they were planning to stage a rally to protest, and we suggested that before they did, they should set up meetings and talk to administrators. Protests can be extremely effective, but what we’ve learned is that sometimes when you sit down and talk to people face-to-face, you may find that you have some allies. They may share some of your concerns, or need more information about your cause. They appreciate the opportunity to work on the problem before it gets to the protest stage, and sometimes, they may even welcome solutions or support from advocates – all you have to do is ask.

It’s really useful to forge those relationships with decision makers, and in the end, you may have more leverage that way. Rallies are powerful, but they probably shouldn’t be the first option you reach for.

About Student Advocates for the Arts:
Student Advocates for the Arts was founded by students in the Arts Administration program at Teachers College, Columbia University. Today they have chapters across the country. This video is part of SAA’s most recent campaign to reach new audiences of students and young voters who want to support the arts, but don’t know how. The video was a project created by SAA and produced pro bono by Dan Wiener and Tim Mattson at Sweet Victory Entertainment.

Get involved:
Student Advocates for the Arts has two events this month:

Arts Degree: October 14, 2010
Meet with student arts administrators from programs around New York City for some laid-back networking and arts talk over drinks!

America: Now and Here, October 21st, 6:30-8 p.m.
Arts leader Dorothy Dunn, in conversation about America: Now and Here, a community-centered traveling project to promote America: Now and Here.

For more information on either event: email or visit