Art: What is it Good For? | If It’s Broke, Fix It

Art What Is It Good For


The public education system in the United States is broken. A quick Google search reveals some of the problems that are nationally prevalent. Achievement gaps. Overcrowded. Underfunded. Outdated. High dropout rate. School-to-prison pipeline. These harsh realities have existed for decades with little success in finding solutions, so this problem is not going to be solved easily or quickly. That doesn’t stop us from having an opinion on what we believe could fix the broken education system. Arts are the answer, and here’s why we think they are.

To begin with, we know the arts are more than their end result of rendering pictures, poems or performances. We define the arts as the skills of critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication. In our rapidly changing world, technology offers the potential to learn, create, collaborate and communicate at an unprecedented scale. The arts equip students intellectually, emotionally and socially to thrive in this ever-changing environment.

Secondly, we believe everybody is born creative. Research shows opportunity, environment and talent affect creative ability, but everyone has the potential to be creative. Our personality and choices determine how much creativity we express. The more people are able to express themselves, the more chance they have to gain understanding about themselves and their abilities especially when those abilities are encouraged by teachers using arts education standards.

In February 2016, recommendations for updated arts learning standards and their implementation were reported to the Illinois State Board of Education through Illinois Arts Learning Standards Initiative. The report was the result of more than a year of statewide outreach and consensus building to reflect best practices of the state’s arts learning standards. Stated in the introduction of this report, “The arts are essential to a complete and competitive education for all Illinois students…. Through the arts, students acquire 21st century learning skills such as critical thinking. They explore a variety of symbolic codes and mediums, synthesize knowledge from subject areas as diverse as mathematics and social science, and devise innovative solutions to problems. They access new ways of thinking and learn to consider, evaluate, and value multiple viewpoints.”

While this document provides the roadmap for successfully engaging the arts in the classroom, exactly how does it fix a broken education system? We feel arts offer learning relevancy that students require. Arts foster the formation of new neural pathways that branch and form new ideas. Arts stimulate an increase of the brain chemicals dopamine, serotonin, endorphins and oxytocin, which are responsible for making us feel good. In other words, the arts make us happy.

The arts promote self-discipline, self-confidence and self-reflection while at the same time teaching students how to empathize with others and communicate effectively. Students engaged in the arts are three times less likely to drop out of school and thus break the school-to-prison pipeline. Artists produce the images, plays, dance, stories and music that make communities unique. Through the arts, students also create meaning in their lives and in the lives of others.

As much as we believe the arts are the answer to many problems that the education system has, we are not so naive to believe it will fix everything. But it is a start. Let’s use this opportunity to support the use of the Illinois Arts Learning Standards in Peoria Public Schools. It will serve as an example of the power of the arts to transform lives and shine a spotlight on how well the arts play in Peoria.

For more information about the Illinois Arts Learning Standards go to

If it is broke

This twist on a cliché provided the spark for our column. Inspiration can be found anywhere. (PHOTO BY DOUG LEUNIG)

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