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GRAMMY awards honor is just the beginning, according to Lou Spisto

Written By | Feb 17, 2014

WASHINGTON, February 17, 2014 — The 2014 Grammy Awards briefly highlighted the importance of arts in schools by awarding teacher Kent Knappenberger of New York the inaugural Music Educator Award.  However many experts in the arts, including producer and arts education advocate, Louis Spisto, say there is still a long way to go.

“The Grammy foundation has done so much to bring music education into the national spotlight through many important year round programs and it’s great to see educators being honored on the Awards show,” says Spisto. “It will hopefully bring attention to these passionate music teachers. Still, reduced funding for music programs in schools is a reality and great teachers can only do so much without the proper support.”

In California for example, where the Grammys are held, the new state budget had reduced arts funding by 7.6 percent in 2013.

With similar budget cuts nationwide, it is becoming increasingly hard to train and attract educators to the arts. Education systems are focused on improving test scores and cutting costs. For decades we have seen the erosion in music and arts programs at the K through 12 level, and the effects have been measured.

Arts education has been proven to directly relate to better academic performance. A Department of Education study goes in to long detail about the connection. The study shows that there are a few key reasons why classes in the arts help develop the whole student and positively contribute to better performance in all other disciplines:

  • Classes in the visual arts and interpretation allow students to develop creative skills and talents that may not be otherwise exercised in other subjects.
  • Teachers involved in the arts engage more personally with students than those in other disciplines, allowing for a more comprehensive learning experience.
  • Exposure to the arts allows students to interpret information and meaning through other methods than the scientific method, which is most often used in other subject areas.

Lou Spisto asserts that music and arts educators need to be armed with the research. “General music education and particularly the opportunity to play an instrument, i.e., read and perform music, increases students’ potential for getting more out of their academic career and become more well-rounded,” says Spisto. “The arts and music are important and essential to life and they should be studied for their own merit and enjoyment. However, to make the case for funding, and to speak to state and local school officials and gatekeepers, we can assert that studies have shown that students perform better academically after they have experienced music and the arts.”

Studies show that not only do teachers engage with students on a more personal and creative level in the arts, but that the students themselves connect in ways foreign to other subjects. Spisto discusses this benefit: “I’d love to believe we all could make the case based on the intrinsic value we gain as individuals or the increased connections we make. It was reported that after the Columbine shootings, those who participated in the drama program were found to be those who healed and reconnected fastest. For these kids it was the only thing that brought them back from that tragedy. However, the bureaucrats speak in test scores and metrics, and we as arts educators need to wage this battle as well.” Lou Spisto said.

The most recent Department of Education report on arts education details programs that allows states the flexibility to find funding for arts education. The most alarming finding is an “equity gap” between the availability of arts instruction and the richness of course offerings for impoverished school districts compared to well-funded school districts. This means that students who are economically disadvantaged do not get the enrichment experiences of affluent students. Even the enrichment of arts educations in wealthier school districts has been lacking; funding country-wide for arts-related disciplines and clubs has declined roughly 5.9 percent each year.

Spisto is no stranger to making the case for funding education programs for the organizations he has led. During his tenure with the Pacific and Detroit Symphonies, expanded education programs were central to his mission. As the Executive Director and Producer of the Old Globe in San Diego, he raised funds for a new theater and education center that supported expanded education programs as the centerpiece of a $75 million fundraising campaign.

“With the research to support it, now is the time to show decision makers that arts education is vital to the success of this generation of students and generations to come,” Lou Spisto asserts. “An investment in arts education is an investment in our education system as a whole. It’s time to make it happen.”