ArtsRising panel discusses arts education amidst budget cuts

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

by Avi Wolfman-Arent

The importance of cultural enrichment was emphasized while standardized testing came in for criticism at City Hall on Monday as ArtsRising convened a panel of arts education stakeholders. ArtsRising is a collaborative venture between Philadelphia Education Fund, Fleisher Arts Memorial, and Philadelphia Citizens for Children and Youth.

At the talk, entitled “The Changing Face of Arts Education in Philadelphia,” the four-member panel stressed the importance of arts education in an era of shrinking budgets. In particular, they advocated for more teaching artists in schools and increased awareness of the arts role in creating well-rounded thinkers.

In the words of the city’s Chief Cultural Officer Gary Steuer, “It’s not an assembly-line world.” He summed up a broad consensus among the participants that arts education promotes the kind of creative skills needed in a 21st century workforce.

“If we want our children to become people that will get and keep jobs, then the arts and arts education is really critical,” Steuer said.

More than one presenter couched the battle for increased arts funding against the growing influence of standardized tests, noting that focus on tested subjects such as math and reading tends to eat away at time usually allocated for other enrichment.

“Our children are greater than the sum of our assessments,” said Dennis Creedon, the District’s deputy of academic enrichment and support.

The assembled crowd of about 50 in City Hall’s Art Gallery gave Creedon a rousing round of applause.

In addition to Creedon and Steuer, Pearl Schaeffer, the CEO of Philadelphia Arts in Education Partnership, and veteran District art teacher Robyn Miller also presented.

The panel discussion concluded an exhibition of student art work displayed in the art gallery, some of it made by Miller’s charges at John Hancock Elementary School in the Northeast.

Questions and answers after the panel became a brainstorming session on fundraising for cash-strapped teachers and artists in the room. ArtsRising executive director Varissa McMickens, who moderated the discussion, ended the afternoon on a hopeful note.

“This is the start of the conversation,” McMickens said, “not the end.”