Arts Education

S015-30x44-300Standardized - 30x44inQ - For years, you've been a strong supporter of the visual arts in education. From your experience, what is the current state?

A - One word: Ominous.

Q. Would you care to elaborate? Are you concerned about the quality of student work, the teaching methods or the reduction of funding for arts programs?

A - Definitely the latter. It certainly isn't the teachers' fault, nor the students. Since we are now globally connected we can easily search the internet to view extraordinary works being created by students around the world in a variety of mediums and formats. The talent is rising, not declining. Likewise, visual arts curricula are now better than ever when they're actually allowed to operate. The problem of course is academic administrators faced with severe budget deficits and growing concerns about students falling behind those of other countries in the core curriculum. These are real concerns, but as usual, the first programs to be cut are the non-core "specials." It's appalling to think that visual or performing arts are deemed less important to a student's overall learning than say, memorizing all the rivers in Africa, symbols of a mineral chart or the names of every president's pet.

Okay, I'm being a little facetious, but I can't understand the thousands of classroom hours wasted shoving globs of dates and data down children's throats when they can now find and retrieve that information in seconds at the flick of a button if or when they need it. Certainly by now we should realize that higher order thinking skills include creative expression, evaluation, self-critiquing and innovation in a variety of forms rather than simple memorization of facts for regurgitation in little boxes on standardized tests. Art programs often provide what core studies may not.

Public Museum funding has been cut tremendously over the years. Entire school districts have cancelled art programs and moved them into optional after-school activities where they are no longer an integral component of holistic learning. In the US House of Representatives,  a bill was introduced to eliminate almost 8 billion dollars of funding for arts projects over the next few years even though this represents a minuscule percentage of the country's budget, an expense that could provide cultural treasures and stimulate imagination in communities nationwide. Even schools that still maintain limited art programs are refusing to provide state-of-the-art digital imaging and multi-media software in favor of free alternatives that pale in comparison and dissuade rather than persuade students to explore their creative sides. I'm not very encouraged by these trends.

Q. What have you done to try to help?

A. Well I'm not independently wealthy and live month to month, but throughout the years my wife and I have provided students and teachers with access to digital imaging systems they otherwise couldn't afford as well as training classes free-of-charge for groups from 1 to 200. I've led photographic excursions and workshops for students and parents to remote destinations and continue to provide online support to hundreds of people through websites and forums in which I participate actively. As teachers, we've purchased thousands of dollars worth of software out of our own pockets that the schools couldn't or wouldn't purchase, plus much more to cover memory cards, camera batteries, peripherals, printing materials and assorted media for student use in classes for alternative processing. We've sponsored students to participate in internet art competitions and mentored many who were preparing advanced placement portfolios. We've allowed many students the online space to display their portfolios to the world. Admittedly small fish, but we're simply trying to fill the cracks created by the deemphasizing of the visual arts and advanced digital imaging / multimedia in education. And of course, whenever we get the chance we extol the virtues and necessity of suites such as Adobe CS for cross-curriculum 21st century learning.

Q. On a different topic, I see by your inactivity that you're not the world's greatest fan of Facebook and Twitter. Do you have a problem with these incredibly popular social networking sites?

A. As communication or collaborative devices, I think they're fantastic. My concern is not for Facebook or Twitter, rather the enormous amount of time people spend saying nothing more than "I Like It," "Nice Pic" or "I think I'll add that video on my FB too" rather than actually creating real content to share. Almosta trillion minutes per month are currently spent on Facebook. I'd venture an estimate that less than 5 percent of this is to upload original content beyond family and travel pics or links to pre-existing YouTube videos. We now all know what each other is doing every minute of every day, but are we actually doing anything? Not to mention that many people simply keep adding friends to rack up their tally but never bother to visit their profiles, much less communicate with them.

That said, the arts-related dialogue on Facebook has increased exponentially through like-minded groups and threads developed by museums, galleries, collaboratives and even renowned art critics such as Jerry Saltz and his wife Roberta Smith. This is great, as is a prospective client base of 900+ million members and growing. But first we have to create things to share them rather than waste time with daily minutiae.

Yes, I finally broke down and added a Facebook page, but I'm still more active on LinkedIn since the groups are more professionally focused. It's amazing how many people can be found and contacted quickly as opposed to email or website contact forms. Since I'm brewing up some projects that will require collaboration with other artists and art patrons, I think social media will be the ticket to get the word out fast rather than wait for them to visit my website.

Twitter? Great for instant communication, but I don't think anyone gives a damn what I'm thinking one minute to the next. On the other hand, it's great to be able to follow the thoughts and recommendations of others who update regularly. For me, I think I've made three or four tweets in six months.


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