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Making the Case for Arts Education

Scott Dawson, Community Outreach and Education Director for the Clark State Community College Performing Arts Center, speaks to the collaborations and efforts to bring awareness to the importance of arts programming in schools, which gives students the self-expression and self-esteem they need to succeed.

Ed. Note: Champions of Change is a weekly initiative to highlight Americans who are making an impact in their communities and helping our country rise to meet the many challenges of the 21st century.


First and foremost, I would like to thank the ultimate Champion of Change and author of creativity, God, for blessing me with this great honor and opportunity.  Thank you to the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities and White House staff for being a gracious host and for facilitating this round table discussion on Arts Education in America with the U.S. Department of Education, and thank you to the leadership at Clark State Community College for their support of the arts as a catalyst for change.

I know the power of the arts firsthand.  It was visual art, music and performance that helped me as a shy, reserved youth learn how to express myself and to gain the confidence to one day make a difference in other lives through the arts.  Graciously dubbed a “Champion of Change” in arts education, I found myself at the White House surrounded by like-minded arts advocates that included fellow “non-profit arts warriors,” celebrity advocates from the Creative Coalition, the Vice Chair of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, and the Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.

It didn’t take long to figure out that everyone there was a big fan of the arts.  We quickly agreed that the arts are so much more than entertainment or a fringe benefit and shared stories and testimonies of the arts changing individuals, schools and communities. In Springfield, OH, the Clark State Community College Performing Arts Center has taken a non-traditional approach of maximizing resources and the impact of the arts by partnering and collaborating with non-arts organizations. The Center partners with Job and Family Services of Clark County to offer Project Jericho, a program that gives positive, in-depth arts experiences to local at-risk youth and families. Project Jericho also provides arts programming inside the Clark County Juvenile Detention Center.  In 2008, Project Jericho’s success at changing lives through the arts was recognized at the White House with a Coming Up Taller Award (now called the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award) from the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities.   

In another example of collaboration, the Clark State Community College Performing Arts Center hosts Arts Alive, one of the larger Kennedy Center Partners in Education Teams with two school partners (Springfield City School District and the Clark County Educational Service Center) and a university partner (Wittenberg University).  Arts Alive is one of the few Kennedy Center Partners in Education Teams that offers arts integration training to pre-service teachers.  With the arts eroding from schools since the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, arts integration becomes an essential component of keeping the arts in the classroom and helping address all learning styles (visual, kinesthetic and oral).

With everyone on the same page about the value of the arts, our round table discussion centered on helping “make the case” for arts education.  With our current economic challenges, the arts and arts education are a particular target for cuts because of its current “fringe” image.  Tim Daly, the President of the Creative Coalition, quickly offered the services of the coalition and its celebrities to create an awareness campaign.  However, any campaign offering qualitative data and testimony should be balanced with quantitative data on the effectiveness of the arts.  As arts providers, we have to become more evidence-based because among school administrators and local and state government officials there is an increasing number asking, “show me the numbers.”  In Project Jericho, we collected data in 2011 on the effect of arts programming on recidivism rates and what we found does “make the case.”  The judge referred juvenile offenders with harder cases and repeat offenses to Project Jericho for in-depth arts programming and their recidivism rates were significantly reduced.  With the annual average cost of a juvenile offender being approximately $50,000, this translates to millions of dollars of savings for the state. 

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 have identified the arts as a core subject area, but only a handful of states do comprehensive annual reporting of all core subject areas. States need to be held accountable for reporting on all core subject areas and the U.S. Department of Education needs to conduct more comprehensive research on the impact of arts education. The numbers are out there because the arts give students the creativity, problem solving, self-expression and self-esteem they need to succeed. 

If we “make the case” together, school administrators and government officials will have to invest more heavily in the arts.

Scott Dawson, the Community Outreach and Education Director for the Clark State Community College Performing Arts Center in Springfield, OH, manages five Arts Outreach and Education programs.