With Decreased Arts Education Affecting Minority Students, Educators Get Creative

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Similarly, the NEA may be taking a major funding hit. The U.S. House of Representatives is mulling a $43 million cut in the NEA budget, the largest cut in 16 years, and a 26 percent drop. The House will vote on several government agency budget slashes at the end of March.

Though the arts may be one of the first things to be cut when education budgets are evaluated, that doesn’t change the fact that youths still need and want to learn through the arts, explained Rentz. “What kids want and need to learn today is how to work with tools and their hands, to solve problems actively, and to use technology to communicate ideas and feeling,” she said.

The Tech Factor

The definition of art appreciation is becoming dependent upon shifts in popular culture, another NEA report concludes, and there’s been a shift from “sit and watch” to “sit and click” arts participation.

According to the study, blacks are 30 percent more likely than whites to watch or listen to a form of art through electronic media. Janice Gouldthrope, director of the Genesee Center for the Arts and Education, says her class is all black and Hispanic kids, and their understanding of the arts has transcended the older definition.

“A lot of kids are into what you might call graphic arts and street arts,” she said. Making movies and videos is an area that tugs at her attendees’ heartstrings because “there’s a natural technology element that’s attractive” to the generation.

Making Art Relevant and Rewarding

Groups such as the Oddfellows Playhouse in Middletown, Conn. and the Sphinx Organization in Detroit have taken the influence of arts in minority communities to levels that appear to transcend any budget limits. One of Oddfellows’ programs, called Arts Explorers, targets sixth, seventh and eighth graders, and enables them to work for a $200 stipend with a professional artist. Matt Pugliese, Managing Director of Oddfellows, says the program is popular among at-risk blacks and Hispanics.

The Sphinx Organization focuses on bringing young black and Hispanic string musicians into professional forums through developmental instruction and promotion of black and Hispanic-made composers. In 2009, Sphinx launched an international endeavor that sends the young musicians to different countries to perform. South Africa is home to Sphinx’s new development program.

Arts Education Losing Ground in College

Jonathan Bingham, a black senior at Howard University, is one of five students studying composition, which is historically a less popular major at the historically black college. He developed an interest in classical music after he stumbled upon “Across the Stars,” a love score for one of the Star Wars films, while searching for beats he could sample to make hip hop songs.

“When I heard that piece,” Bingham said, “I thought, ‘this composer said exactly what was being portrayed in the movie, but he said [it] in the music.’ I knew exactly what the movie was going to be about before I saw the movie.”

However, Howard’s administration is looking to cut several study programs to strengthen its costs-to-academic efficiency goals. Some majors that may be cut include art history, fashion merchandising and interior design. Bingham fears his small music composition program may be included in that list. But if it happens, Bingham would still be able to graduate with his degree.

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