I’ve just become aware that the Virginia Legislature is set to vote on the fate of the Virginia Commission for the Arts (VCA). The House of Delegates has recommended that the VCA be abolished by July 1, 2011. No other state in the country has taken such a drastic ax to the arts. I’m shocked and appalled that this could be the fate of my home state.
Two programs near and dear to my heart are the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville and the Virginia Arts Festival in Norfolk. These annual programs rely on state funding for success. Over the years, I’ve watched fewer and fewer grants and scholarships being offered; conferences and festivals terminated; school programs completely discontinued. It’s been a slow deterioration of what was once a thriving and innovative East Coast arts scene. I never dreamed it might come to this. My heart breaks for my home state and for the precedent set for our nation. A society that does not champion and cultivate its artists is a society doomed to ignorance and the feeble harvest of future generations whose expressive ability is fatally compromised. The cataclysmic repercussions are unimaginable.
I’m not telling you anything new by citing the findings of the Arts Education Partnership (AEP), funded by the U.S. Department of Education and National Endowment for the Arts. Their study Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development clearly found that:
Students who participate in arts learning experiences often improve their achievement in other realms of learning and life. In a well-documented national study using a federal database of over 25,000 middle and high school students, researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles found students with high arts involvement performed better on standardized achievement tests than students with low arts involvement. Moreover, the high arts-involved students also watched fewer hours of TV, participated in more community service and reported less boredom in school.
If that wasn’t enough, how about this:
Arts participation and SAT scores co-vary—that is, they tend to increase linearly: the more arts classes, the higher the scores. This relationship is illustrated in the 2005 results shown below. Notably, students who took four years of arts coursework outperformed their peers who had one half-year or less of arts coursework by 58 points on the verbal portion and 38 points on the math portion of the SAT…The arts help create the kind of learning environment conducive to teacher and student success by fostering teacher innovation, a positive professional culture, community engagement, increased student attendance, effective instructional practice and school identity.
I’m no MD or researcher, but I’m intelligent enough to listen to the experts and heed their advice. In addition, I’m an author who knows without a doubt I would not be who I am today had I not been richly planted in Virginia’s arts programs. I beg my government leaders to listen to the researchers and the voices of the artists.
As it was reported on Jacket Copy, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities President Rob Vaughan commented, “This is overwhelmingly the worst for state budgets, for revenues and for expenditures.” Despite it all, he’s trying to remain optimistic. “The economy eventually will recover. I think we will prevail.”
The General Assembly adjourns March 13. If you’re a Virginian, you can help. Call your delegate at (800) 889-0229 and let him/her know, we want the VCA to stay. Or take 1 minute to email them here.
I hope they do. In the meantime, the rest of the country is watching, holding their breaths, and praying it isn’t the beginning of national avalanche.
Yours truly, Sarah