September 9, 2008
Policymakers have underestimated the critical role of arts learning in supporting a vibrant nonprofit cultural sector, according to a RAND Corporation study issued today. The study was commissioned by The Wallace Foundation and conducted by RAND, a non-profit research organization.
Despite decades of effort to make high-quality works of art available to Americans, demand for the arts has failed to keep pace with supply. Audiences for classical music, jazz, opera, theater and the visual arts have declined as a percentage of the population, and the percentage of these audiences age 30 and younger has fallen even more.
"For decades, public funding of the arts has focused on building supply and expanding access to the arts, but it has neglected the cultivation of audiences capable of appreciating the arts," said report co-author Laura Zakaras, an arts researcher at RAND. "If we are not teaching the young how to engage with works of art, they are not likely to become involved in the arts as adults."
Calling upon evidence that experiencing and studying the arts in childhood increase the likelihood of arts participation later in life, the study recommends policymakers in both the arts and education to devote greater attention to cultivating demand for the arts by supporting more and better arts education.
"We believe that every child – and our broader society – benefits from high quality arts learning opportunities; and that its absence over the long term would be a great loss to individuals, communities and this nation," said M. Christine DeVita, president of The Wallace Foundation. "Early engagement with the arts is an engine that can power lifelong arts participation – research consistently links early exposure to the arts to participation later in life. This new study reveals the central role arts learning plays in ensuring children can benefit from the arts as adults and that America has a robust cultural life in the future."
Synthesizing previous studies, researchers find long-term involvement in the arts is most likely to be stimulated by arts education that develops a range of individual capacities such as:
- the ability to see, hear and feel what works of art have to offer,
- the ability to create within an art form,
- the historical and cultural knowledge that enriches the understanding of works of art,
- the ability to draw meaning from works of art through reflection and discussion with others.
At the public school level, researchers note, arts content standards have been almost universally mandated by the states and are broadening teaching practices, but state, local, and district policies are not providing the resources or time in the school day to implement these standards. In fact, there is evidence that high-stakes standardized testing has led to reduced class time for both the arts and humanities in the past five years, according to the study.
Arts organizations and colleges have been helpful in complementing school-based arts education, but it is not enough to fill the void. "In the past couple of decades, these programs have proliferated and improved, but they cannot substitute for strong, sequential arts education in the schools," Zakaras said.
Analyzing grant making data, researchers show that state arts agencies, which have historically focused on providing grants to arts organizations, have directed less than 10 percent of their grants over the last 20 years toward activities that target arts learning. In most states, the grants are not part of a comprehensive strategy to promote youth or adult arts learning.
However, some state arts agencies are bucking this trend. Rhode Island and New Jersey, for example, have forged relationships with their state departments of education, other state agencies and members of the arts community to develop comprehensive statewide plans for improving arts education in the public schools.
In New Jersey, the state's arts agency helped develop a survey of arts education that has raised awareness of the inadequacy of its provision in the schools. Concerned residents are now pushing for the adoption of a number of new policies, including inclusion of per-pupil arts spending in New Jersey's Comparative Spending Guide for public schools. In Rhode Island, the state arts agency was instrumental in successful efforts to adopt a standards-based high school graduation requirement in the arts.
Based on these findings, the authors recommend that state arts agencies and policymakers gauge how well their states are doing by conducting surveys of arts education; developing specific high school graduation requirements in the arts; recognizing and publicizing arts learning programs considered exceptional by experts in the field; and advocating for changes in state policy that increase the amount and breadth of arts learning opportunities.
"For policy change to happen at the state level, the entire arts community needs to get behind it. Arts educators can't do it by themselves. But if they were joined by other policymakers, including directors of arts organizations and the civic leaders who sit on their boards, who knows what they might be able to accomplish?" Zakaras said.
According to the authors, a healthy demand for the arts is critical to a vibrant nonprofit arts sector. Policies that focus on supporting the supply of the arts and broadening access to the arts are not sufficient for building that demand.
The report, "How to Cultivate Demand for the Arts: Arts Learning, Arts Engagement, and State Arts Policy," and a report summary are available at www.rand.org and www.wallacefoundation.org.
RAND Education, a division of the RAND Corporation, is a leader in providing objective, high-quality research and analysis on educational challenges that is used to improve educational access, quality and outcomes in the United States and throughout the world.
The Wallace Foundation is an independent, national foundation dedicated to supporting and sharing effective ideas and practices that expand learning and enrichment opportunities for all people. Its three current objectives are: strengthening education leadership to improve student achievement; enhancing out-of-school learning opportunities; and building appreciation and demand for the arts. The Foundation maintains an online library of research reports and other publications that may be downloaded free of charge at: www.wallacefoundation.org.