The Common Good

Art Matters

Unfortunately, celebrating the arts isn’t a priority today. This is especially apparent when ongoing budget cuts threaten robust art programs.

Child in art class, Poznyakov,
Child in art class, Poznyakov,

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When looking for places to cut, art and music school programs are the first to go in schools. Recently in Los Angeles, the Board of Education approved a preliminary $6 billion budget, a plan that would eliminate employment by the thousands, close school districts’ adult schools, cut after-school programs and cut art programs.

These cuts continue, even when Secretary of Education Arne Duncan insists dance, music, theater, and visual arts "are essential to preparing our nation's young people for a global economy fueled by innovation and creativity,” according to GOOD.

Maybe our leaders and school officials view art similar to how I once did. To put it simply, art was something imposed on me.

I hated art as a child. Granted, most of my childhood understanding of art consisted of coloring pages, the lines on paper set by someone else and a 12-set Crayola box—and I hated coloring. It was a punishment in mind-numbing and repetitive hand exercise that would painfully tire my young hands.

It wasn’t until two years ago that I learned why I needed to care about art. I decided to take an art class and the first thing I grabbed wasn’t a paintbrush, easel or paper—it was the Bible. I learned that since we are made in the image of God we have access to the very abilities of God. God was a creator, an artist, so I had access to be a creator, an artist.

Art was no longer exclusive to those endowed with talent. It was something any and all could participate in. It was beautiful and so freeing to know that there was more to it than the coloring pages I had known as a child.

I applaud nonprofit programs like Inner City Arts in Los Angeles. Thanks to them, more than 150,000 students have been offered healthy and exciting avenues to explore their artistry, their humanity and the story they have to tell.

At Inner City Arts, students can expand a love for arts into exceling in other areas like math, science and communication. Programs like this give children the opportunity to see how important art is for their lives and maybe even produce a relationship with the artist that created them.

Time and experience has allowed me to say that art is indispensable. It is the key foundation of what it means to be human. With art we tell our stories, we share our pain, our triumphs, our history – with art we learn what it means to live and what it means to have been created by an artist. To save art classes from extinction is to save the need for humanity to create.

So for the rest of this month, (and the next and the next – you get the idea) take time to cultivate the artist in you and the artist waiting to be discovered in every person.

Karla T. Vasquez is a mobilizing assistant for Sojourners.

Child in art class, Poznyakov,

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