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Art Advocacy In Your Classroom
By Lee Darter
When I first became the art advocacy chair for the VAEA (Virginia Art Education Association), I was not sure what kind of presence I would have on the board. I really did not know very much about art advocacy. I always assumed someone much higher up and much smarter than me would handle all our state’s art advocacy needs. This mysterious person was always there lobbying state officials and creating policy on behalf of all the arts. I did not think it was something I needed to worry about. I realized that I was not alone in thinking this way. I discovered most art teachers tend to let others worry about art advocacy for them.
I also realized that I could no longer stand by and allow others to tackle art advocacy issues for me. With so many art jobs and arts funding being cut all across our country we as art teachers have to do everything in our power to make sure our students understand the impact of a really great art education program.
Art advocacy does not have to always mean beating down your legislator’s door. Art advocacy can be as simple as teaching the principles and elements of art, and it is just as important. Art advocacy is something you can do right from your classroom.
It always surprises me when students say, “art is not a real subject” or “art is not a real job”. To this I say, “look around you, everything you see here was touched by an artist in some way”.
If you ask your students to simply look around the room and start removing everything an artist had a part in creating, you would be left sitting on a mound of dirt outside with no clothes on. I ask my students to consider these things; the rug under their feet, the signs on the walls, the video games they play, the movies they watch, the package design on their favorite toy, the menu at their favorite restaurant, the photos of their sister’s wedding, the plates they eat from, the building that surrounds them, the car their parents drove them to school in and the clothes they are wearing right now. These are all things created by artists.
I am not sure how or when it became acceptable thinking that art is not a real job or a real field of study. Even if you are not looking for a career directly related to art, the study of art will help you be more creative in whatever path you choose. Having the capacity and the ability to think outside the normal constraints of your job title is something artists do every day. Why wouldn’t everyone want to strive for that in their own lives and work…even doctors and rocket scientists?
There are several things you can teach your students in the classroom to ensure they become responsible art advocates.
- First, make sure to include a related art career with every lesson you teach. Students benefit from seeing the impact of what they are learning being used in real world applications.
- Second, make sure that you are promoting your own art program. Let your students, parents and community see the benefits of your program. Show your school administrators that children grow from learning how to think creatively as opposed to learning what to think for a given test.
- Also, make sure your state legislators know that art is much more than cute pictures hanging in the hallways of their local elementary school. Let them know art is a career in and of itself. Let the world know art also prepares our future workforce to think creatively in order to solve real world problems.
- Most importantly make sure your students know and believe that what you are teaching is a real subject every time you stand in front of them through your own enthusiasm and love art.
You are art’s best advocate, and it begins right in your own classroom.
Lee Darter is an elementary school art teacher, an artist, a business owner (Doodle All Day Art), and the president of the Ron Abney Educational Fund charity.