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6 Powerful Ways to Advocate for Your Visual Arts Program Post Pandemic

We continue to navigate the profound impact of an awakening brought upon by extreme politics, racial injustices, and collective trauma during and post-pandemic. We also continue to reflect and consider where we were and where we are going as a country, educational system, and as educators. While sitting in this tumultuous season, we must also take time to reflect upon our belief systems, how we interpret research, our personal and professional biases, and what we value as art educators.

One thing we can all agree upon, however, is that the arts are essential!

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As art educators, what and how we teach will always be a passionate discussion. The truth is, there is no one way to teach our students. If we continue to be reflective and responsive in our teaching practice, then the heart of why we teach art will always be clear. No matter what is going on in our lives, communities, and country, we know the significant impact a quality arts education has on the next generation. No one needs to tell us all the reasons why arts education is a must—it is ingrained in our souls. How do we remind the world that what we feel is more than a “feeling” but is an essential skill set?

While some programs have found an increase in arts enrollment during the pandemic, many students (and school administrators) have doubled down on core classes. Some students crave our art classes, already aware of the benefits. But many parents and students fear falling behind in the present and the long-term impact when students apply for college. How do we continue to advocate for the visual arts and navigate the challenges, obstacles, and ever-changing priorities set by our schools, the community, and beyond?

Here are 6 big picture problems facing education right now and how the arts already combat these issues.

1. The Problem: Learning Loss

Whether perceived or real, we have some catch-up to do. Even in the art room, we see areas in need of extra support. Our littlest artists may not have stepped foot into a classroom setting until this school year. Some of our most advanced students may not have had any in-person studio classes. Students at every level need extra support. If we see it in the art room, it’s clear this issue spans all content areas. Unfortunately, the “learning gap” focuses heavily on core classes such as math and English as they are tested subjects. Districts may cut your class time in half or altogether do away with art in favor of extra core resources. Students may be more likely to choose study halls instead of elective classes.

What we can do:

Looking for more backup? Check out these articles:

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2. The Problem: Initiatives Take Precedence

New initiatives impact how the arts integrate and support school-wide plans. Often, these initiatives involve more work added to our already overflowing plate. Many districts are adopting, a focus on social-emotional learning. It is the perfect time to become a leader at your school! Be a team player—advocate for the arts by sharing the intrinsic benefits of visual arts in connection with SEL.

What we can do:

Looking for more articles to support your case?

3. The Problem: Lack of Socialization

Students, especially our younger elementary students, have forgotten or never properly learned what it was like to engage with each other pre-pandemic. What does collaboration look like now that we are distanced, masked, and with individual sets of supplies? Even at the secondary level, students can still struggle to speak up when asked a question and do not always willingly collaborate with peers when given the opportunity. While engagement may have been a struggle pre-pandemic, these social skills need to be reintroduced and practiced.

What we can do:

Include these advocacy articles in your next proposal or learn ways to create change in your school and community:

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4. The Problem: Technology Overload

As you heard in the Art Ed Radio episode, Leaving Tech Behind, most students need a technology detox. Pre-pandemic, technology was infused in all content areas and increasingly leaned upon in various teaching strategies. After remote and hybrid learning, we have seen the impact of hours of screens on our students. Intense amounts of screen time impact our brains from increased stress to decreased sleep and overall mental health. We are uniquely poised to change that dynamic in the art room. Help students disconnect and engage with their environment, exercise their fine motor skills, and create outside the screen.

What we can do:

  • Implement technology as a tool to get to the good stuff instead of being the only modality.
  • Integrate physical media into digital media. For example, digitally edit an image, then print it out to cut, paste, and collage. Or, design a package in Illustrator, then print it, and construct it.
  • Prompt handwriting, reading books (yes, books!), and presenting physical artifacts beyond the computer screen.

Looking for more ways to reduce tech and get back to hands-on activities?

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5. The Problem: Lack of Funding

Let’s call a spade a spade. Funding for the arts is—and always has been—an issue. As learning loss shifts its focus to core content areas such as math and reading, funding will flow away from the arts. Parents don’t want to pay for extra math tutoring when the school can make that adjustment during the school day. You may feel like this is an uphill battle and one you are too exhausted to fight right now. Unfortunately, for many art teachers, your job may be on the line when funding shifts to other areas.

What we can do:

Here is some more support to help you ask for more funds:

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6. The Problem: Collective Trauma

Collective trauma reaches across age, skin color, gender, or sexuality. We all have experienced trauma to varying levels over these past few years. This trauma includes (but is not limited to) constant fear, overwhelming loss, ongoing uncertainty, pervasive racism, and political and environmental unrest. Students and teachers walk a thin line as we move from class to class throughout our day. The art room is no stranger to holding the emotional trauma we all carry. How can we share the very special gift that art has in helping to process and heal?

What we can do:

Add these articles to your cache of resources:

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As passionate art educators, we already know all the reasons why the arts are essential. You don’t need to add more to your plate to advocate for your program.

If you are looking to make a big splash, creating large-scale installations can shift the school environment. Writing advocacy letters to administration and government officials can be copied, pasted, and tweaked to make a large impact beyond your immediate community. Pursue grants to respond to current events through artmaking. Work with outside organizations and working artists to connect the real world back into the classroom bubble. AOEU’s complimentary workshop, The Art of Writing: Why Writing Matters in Art Education, is a great tool for improving your writing beyond the classroom.

But don’t forget—the work you do in your classroom is already combatting what our students manage daily. Slipping reminders to your administration and community doesn’t have to take a lot of energy or time. Link the resources here to newsletters, social media posts, or your signature in your emails. Even small reminders go a long way to constantly connect the very large and very real impact the arts have on our students, both short and long term.

Looking for more research to support your case?

What are your favorite arts advocacy tools?

What other issues can you think of that the arts help combat?

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors from across the nation and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University or any of its academic offerings.

Janet Taylor

Contributor

Janet Taylor is a high school art teacher in the western suburbs of Chicago. She geeks out in developing Choice-based curriculum and believes that by guiding students through their own creative process, they are empowered to create unique and meaningful artworks.

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