An integral part of our human development must include education in the arts. Educational research that examines the learning processes throughout the ages, even those beginning with Plato, has emphasized the importance of the arts as part of our development and scholarship. Humanities are described as academic disciplines that study human culture. Humanities researchers detail the arts as one of the defining characteristics of the human species and conclude that every culture has a distinct artistic aspect.

Our cognitive ability to create art separate from the body is thought to have originated in Africa, but the practice may have begun at different times both genetically and culturally across the globe (Morriss-Kay, 2010). Today the humanities are more frequently contrasted with natural, physical, and social sciences as well as professional training. However, we must consider fine arts as a critical component of our academic experience.

The visual arts are present in music, dance, language and rituals that mark many different aspects of our lives such as birth, marriage, death, religion, and politics. Animal courtship, competitions, as well as modern day communications, all include aspects of vocalization, ritualized movement and visual displays. Anyone who has watched turkeys or peacocks during spring can validate art in animal courtship.

I was recently enjoying a jazz concert at D’Anbinos in Paso Robles featuring a local Paso Robles High School graduate and observed many of the patrons expressing emotions through dance, tapping of feet, clapping of hands, shaking of bodies and bobbing of heads. Is this a form of art as well as the expression of emotion? Many opinions exist on how we define art, but without academic consensus (Layton, 1991). We tend to identify art in a formal sense related to what we find aesthetically pleasing. Can we claim that what is considered positive and evokes emotion resonates as an art form rather than something that is solely pragmatic? Do we know if ancient art was created for art’s sake or did it represent a survival need? Does my love of jazz and disinterest in heavy metal indicate that only one of these forms of music is a valid expression of art, or simply what I find pleasing?

May of 2017 nearly 3,200 North County students, faculty and staff gathered to enjoy “Peter and the Wolf: Telling Stories Through Music” a Countywide Arts Collaboration bringing together the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education, Ballet Theatre San Luis Obispo, radio talk show host Dave Congalton, and the OperaSLO Grand Orchestra conducted by Artistic Director Brian Asher Alhadeff in a new ballet version of Sergie Prokofiev’s classical tale for narrator and orchestra. This year Vina Robles has again agreed to graciously host this year’s production of “Peter Pan,” another Countywide Arts Collaborative sponsored by the Paso Robles Education Alliance, the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education, Professor David Burt, and Virginia Severa. “Live theatre is a team sport and the performing arts are relevant and necessary for children to experience frequently,” says Maestro Alhadeff.

We must maintain or expand levels of fine arts education in our schools, including in schools with high percentages of poor and minority students. In the face of economic stress, schools and districts may be tempted to reduce their investment in anything that appears to be “extra” or unnecessary. However, the arts play a significant role in supporting student learning beyond the boundaries of the fine arts classroom.

In line with maintaining or expanding arts education, we must work together to see that all students have equal access to courses in various arts disciplines, regardless of their socioeconomic backgrounds. We need to recognize fine arts classes as core aspects of the academic curriculum rather than as merely “add-ons” or “feel-good” electives.

The research is clear in indicating that students at all grade levels (including middle school or junior high) should be required to study fine arts. To increase student opportunities, we should assure that funding for arts education in our schools is maintained or expanded. Ongoing maintenance of funding is necessary to continue the positive relationships between arts education and student learning as identified in the research literature. I am proud to see North County embracing the arts in our schools and community.

~ By SLO County Superintendent of Schools Jim Brescia