Discussion panel explores why the arts are essential to education

By RUDY MALCOM | September 20, 2018




Students compared arts in public schools to humanities at hopkins.

 The 29th Street Community Center (29SCC) hosted the event, Frills or Essentials? Public School Arts, Mentoring & Out of School Time Programs, on Monday. This was the second event of the Gertrude S. Williams Speaker Series. 

Speakers shared personal experiences and relevant statistics to affirm the importance of fine arts education, mentoring and other after-school programs in Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS) within the contexts of youth development and civic engagement. Jo Ann Robinson of the 29SCC Council moderated the panel.

The mission of the 29SCC focuses on creating community-led programming. Although Baltimore shut down several community centers in 2011, Strong City Baltimore, a neighborhood-focused nonprofit, reopened the 29SCC two years later. Senior Portfolio Manager and Director of Community Programs Karen DeCamp said this was because of its popularity among families and children. 

Julia Di Bussolo, executive director of Arts Every Day, an arts education advocacy group, is working to promote arts integration and better equity of the arts within BCPS. Arts Every Day has partnered with more than 40 schools and cultural organizations across the district for over a decade.

She stressed the importance of arts education and noted that students with high arts participation are more likely to stay in school, volunteer and become involved in their communities.

“An arts-rich education has the most impact on students that are growing up in low socioeconomic setting,” she said. “But the students that benefit the most are the least likely to have access to it.”

Sadiq Ali is the director of Millionaire Manners Academy and Maryland MENTOR, two personal development organizations. He said that with strong mentoring, young people are 55 percent more likely to enroll in college and 78 percent more likely to build their communities.

“There are too many young folks I see that have passion, that have energy, but lack some of the guidance,” he said.

Ali identified some of the current obstacles to mentoring services and programs.

“One of the big roadblocks we have to get over at this point is that we have to shift several paradigms as it relates to mentoring. One of them is that mentoring is only for poor black kids or that mentoring is only for underprivileged kids,” he said.

Dan Trahey, who is the founder and director of Tuned-In at the Peabody Institute, a free program for musically talented Baltimore City youth, also addressed the need for communities to unite. 

Trahey, who is also the creator of and artistic liaison to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s OrchKids after-school program, described music not as a luxury but as a vehicle for social change because it allows people to do something collectively. 

According to Trahey, allowing people of various socioeconomic status, races and sexualities to create music together allows for diversified and authentic representation in schools. 

“Are we making sure that we’re validating everybody’s beliefs and culture? With music that’s such an easy thing, so something I think we might be able to do more and more of is diversify the type of music we’re playing at Johns Hopkins University,” he said.

Unlike neighboring counties, principals in the Baltimore public school district have discretion over whether they fund the arts. Di Bussolo hopes to change that with a five-year strategy for implementing visual arts, music, dance, theater and media arts units for pre-kindergarteners and high schoolers.

“The only thing that us as advocates can do is push from the outside and try to make sure that there are at least policies in place so that principals start to have to make that decision a little bit differently,” she said.

She invited the audience to the Baltimore City Council Youth and Education Committee Hearing on Oct. 18 at Baltimore City Hall to share testimonies about why arts are essential and should matter to City Council. She also welcomed Hopkins students and administrators, who she said have could help promote arts education by conducting and analyzing research.

DeCamp also believes that the University could play a major role in lobbying state legislators.

“One of the best ways for Hopkins to help right now would be for it to lend its voice in lobbying the state government to do what’s right for BCPS children and properly fund BCPS,” she said.

DeCamp also mentioned that the University was one of the 29SCC’s first funders, that it supports Margaret Brent Elementary Middle School’s arts integration and that its Director of Local Government and Community Affairs, Jennifer Mielke, has played an integral role in planning fundraisers.  

Junior Nikki Garcia, who attended the Speaker Series, encouraged Hopkins students to go to events hosted by local nonprofits and other organizations. She called on the administration to create and publicize more opportunities for students to engage with the Baltimore community.

“The administration could have open dialogues with students about what they think can be done in the Baltimore community,” she said. “Many students come with the mindset of ‘I’m only coming to be a student at Hopkins.’ They don’t come with the idea of ‘I’m coming to be a community member in Baltimore.’”

Sophomore Bentley Addison, who interns at 29SCC, compared the intention of the Speaker Series to conversations at Hopkins about whether the humanities are vital to higher education.

“It’s absolutely an analogous situation. Things like humanities and arts programs help you to grow as a person and as a learner in a way that an education focused on simply marketable skills and test preparation doesn’t,” he wrote in an email to The News-Letter

He added that it is important for students to have venues for creativity.

“Expressing yourself and finding some creative avenue for passion is just as important to an individual’s future as the courses they take for their biology degree on their way to medical school,” he wrote.

Addison also addressed the email University President Ronald J. Daniels sent to students on Sept. 7 urging students to recognize the importance of the humanities. Although Addison disliked certain elements of the email, he thought it sent a valuable message overall.

“It was fanciful, and I wasn’t a huge fan of the way he put a lot of things, but on the whole the message that the humanities are not just legitimate and deserving of respect but important and foundational to a lot of personal growth can’t be repeated enough,” he wrote.

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