By Amy Grace Drinkwater
“Music changed the course of my life,” said Heather Moll, 36, an elementary band director for the Phoenixville School District, who has taught music to students for 15 years. “Without it, I would probably be working as a cashier at a grocery store and probably on government funding to survive.”
Moll has a bachelor’s degree in music education from Millersville University and a master’s degree in conducting from Messiah College.
Moll said her pivotal moment came from a former student, who had become fluent in Mandarin after studying the language in Taiwan. Her student claimed that Moll’s band class and further practice over the years trained his brain and ear to understand and learn Mandarin faster than the average person.
Moll believes this moment affirmed all she needed to know about the science behind music and the arts and the importance the arts have to other areas of education.
Unfortunately for art enthusiasts, the arts in precollege and college education have been on the decline due to budget cuts.
Science Behind the Arts
Moll discussed her passion for music and the important role it has played in the development of human DNA.
“Scientifically speaking, it has been proven that music ignites synapsis in the brain in ways that nothing else on this earth can,” Moll said. Moll also emphasized the positive impact it has on academic performance.
According to NEA, youth of low socioeconomic status and at-risk students involved in the arts have proven to do better in academics, become more involved in civic participation and have more opportunities in the workforce.
Caitlin Flaherty, DCCC’s Supervisor of Arts Administration, also expressed her passion for the arts and the importance of it scientifically.
“Students who are engaged in the arts and music in schools achieve more outside of school and do better on standardized tests,” Flaherty said.
“Without art, students aren’t excelling,” said Bertha Gutman, a DCCC fine arts professor who has been teaching for 30 years. “In the creative arts and in understanding art history, we have always promoted critical thinking,” Gutman said, “which is one of the key buzzwords in education today.”
Gutman also discussed how being creative in any of the arts enhances performance in science, math and humanities classes in general.
Dr. Olivia Florek, a DCCC art history professor, agrees.
“Students in the fine arts and in art history are called to a different type of accountability,” she said. “There is a transformation that takes place, a translation from an idea to the visual and then the visual back to how the idea is going to be expressed. It’s in that translation where students really are stretched because it’s hard to talk about visual things.”
Gutman added that through art education, a student will learn visual literacy and be able to look at the world in a different way. The actual physical engineering elements of producing artwork helps in the understanding of how anything is constructed, such as an object like a chair, Florek said.
According to Moll, funding for arts education differs from district to district in the public school system. A portion of funding comes from taxpayers, Moll said. Many districts have an education foundation, as well as government grants anyone can apply for, Moll and Flaherty explained.
Flaherty said that nonprofit organizations help fund schools in the Philadelphia area, adding that she has helped with fundraising in the past for projects and trips for students in the arts.
As the president of Tyler Alumni Association, Flaherty has also run an art supply drive for local middle schools in inner city Philadelphia. Scholarships are also available for art students, Flaherty said.
According to Stephen Smith, DCCC’s associate professor of drama, in the professional world, the arts are funded by grants and donors, unlike in U.K. where the government funds the arts at the National Theater or Royal Shakespeare Company.
During the recession, a lot of small theaters had to close because most of them are funded by nonprofit organizations unlike bigger theaters, which make their profit through audiences, Smith said.
Florek and Gutman both addressed how much support the art department has at DCCC.
“I wish what we experienced here was better reflected in the broader art community,” Florek said. “Sometimes the barriers to entry are too high.”
Florek discussed how at DCCC there are paid internships for art students, which is not the case for entry level job internships in most other art communities. Next semester, Florek will be teaching a course where students will be directly working in the curation of an exhibit and working with an artist.
Defunding of the Arts
The National Endowment for the Arts is a government program that helps grant access to the arts for people everywhere in the United States. Since February of this year, President Donald Trump is proposing to eliminate this program as part of his new budget.
Moll said that the lack of funding in the arts is initiated by a lack of understanding of how important the arts are, especially in core classes. She added that some educators and administrators who oversee funding at schools and education believe that core subjects, such as language arts, math and science, are the only classes needed.
Furthermore, Flaherty said when the economy is good, college admissions are down and so is funding for the arts.
According to the Quad Magazine, a publication that specializes in secondary and higher education trends, when an economic collapse occurs, budgets are cut. Unemployment rises, which means less tax revenues for school districts and less funding.
The Quad Magazine reported that budget cuts are often made by administrators and policy makers who also fund STEM classes. As a result, usually music and fine arts electives are the first to get cut, according to the Quad Magazine.
Smith mentioned that the emphasis in education has been on science and technology, which are fields that not many students have pursued. Due to that, there has been a de-emphasis on the arts in favor of STEM education, which is wrong, according to Smith. “The arts teach you to relate to other people,” Smith said.
Careers in the Arts
As for top career paths in the arts, Flaherty suggests graphic design, web development and photography. She also mentioned that sustainable design is another career path students interested in the arts should consider since it relates to product and building design in an environmentally friendly age.
Florek mentioned the technology field is also in need of art thinkers.
Smith said social media is “huge right now,” which is essential to becoming a YouTube influencer and advertising oneself.
According to Smith, creating independent films and auditioning at downtown theaters are helpful ways to jumpstart a career in theater right now as well as taking advantage of social media to get noticed.
The medical profession and businesses are requiring art classes to gain critical thinking skills, Gutman said, adding there are museum gallery and publishing positions, which require fine arts degrees.
The arts reflect what is going on in the culture and describe universal things about humanity which is why Shakespeare is still taught in education, Smith said, emphasizing that a career in the arts can be a struggle, but it opens up so many connections and opportunities.
According to Moll, the best way to pursue an arts career in the face of naysayers, is to maintain a firm conviction or belief in its importance, seek mentors and be around seasoned musicians and artists.
Gutman, Florek, Smith, Moll and Flaherty emphasized their passion for supporting students in the arts and how they want to encourage them to keep going and to stick with it.
“There have been so many studies done about the positive outcomes that the arts have on education,” Flaherty said. “To those who have never stepped foot in an art gallery or a museum I say, try it out. Go to the local museum or come to the art gallery here on campus, which is free to anybody, because you might be a little surprised by what you find.”
Through Oct. 18, there will be an A.F.A. Foundations Student Exhibition on display every week day from 9 to 5 p.m. in the Art Gallery on Marple campus.
There is also a music concert Sept. 26 at 5 p.m. in the Large Auditorium on Marple campus.
Contact Amy Grace Drinkwater at firstname.lastname@example.org