‘Studio in a School’ Fights Back Against Art Class Cuts

It was the mid 1970’s, the country in the midst of a financial crisis, when Agnes Gund recognized a problem in education. “Art is the first thing that’s cut,” she observed. She was right; by then, New York City had practically wiped out its budget for arts education in public schools. Visual learning is often played down as one of the not-so-crucial parts of education. The benefits gained in visual learning is commonly misunderstood and assumed to have minimal positive impact toward a student’s’ academic performance, if any at all. However, evidence from research shows that those who had the opportunity to experiment and explore with their creativity show greater ability to higher-level thinking.

Brain research show that learning the arts require cognitive abilities similar to those used in learning other academic subjects such as mathematics, science, and language. Not only that, but learning the arts also tests and challenges attentional, emotional, and motor capabilities, all of which are also required in the process of learning other school subjects.

The combination of testing becoming more standardized, a strong emphasis on the Common Core, and budget cuts from the most recent recession has all contributed to neglect in art programs at schools. During the school year of 1999-2000, 20% of schools offered dance and theatre programs. In comparison, during the school year of 2009-2010, only 3% of schools offered dance and theatre programs. While the availability of music classes maintained a 94% availability in schools, visual arts dropped significantly from 87% in 1999-2000 to 83% in 2009-2010.

The schools that had highest rates of minority and impoverished students suffered the worst, with the lowest rates of art program availability. White students are twice as likely to have access to art programs than African-American or Hispanic students. This is shown in a downward trend of minorities receiving art education since the beginning of the 1990’s. In 1992, 50.9% of African-Americans and 47.2% of Hispanics ages 18-24 received art education. In 2008, only 26.2% of African-Americans and 28.1% of Hispanics received art education.

In retaliation to lack of funding and availability to the arts, Gund founded Studio in a School, a nonprofit program that brings professional artists into schools to teach art. She currently holds the positions of founder and chairwoman.

Since then, Studio has provided visual arts learning experiences to over 150 public schools in the five boroughs of NYC. Each year, almost 30,000 children receive services from Studio, with 90% of the students coming from low-income families. Since its inception in 1977, 850,000 children had the opportunity to learn drawing, painting, printmaking, collage, sculpting, and photography to facilitate creative and intellectual development.

Seeing great success in NYC, Studio has planned on expanding its program nationwide under a new division called the Studio Institute. Tom Cahill, President and CEO, has been appointed the director of the Studio Institute.