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Think smart! Develop art education support in your community.

Think Smart! Save Music and the Arts! This is what a group of concerned parents are proclaiming in Flagstaff, Arizona due to a recent budget cut of 50% in the elementary art program and elimination of high school theatre productions.

However, even before the crisis, the district was feeling the financial crunch of its budget due to other factors, such as a sudden population growth in the community within the last ten years. This had forced the district to go to the public with a bond election in 1985 to build three new elementary schools and one high school. These schools were the first additional facilities in twenty years. There has also been a lack of financial support from the state legislature for state-mandated programs, such as elementary art, in Arizona. More and more programs are being mandated with little or no funding attached to local districts.

In Flagstaff, the elementary and secondary art programs had grown tremendously since the 1960'S, with certified art instructors for grades 1-12, an art coordinator who supervised a written curriculum that followed the state's Essential Skills in Art, and a program given the Model School District in Art Recognition by the Arizona Department of Education in 1988. With such a well-established, flourishing program, how could it possibly have been the target of cuts?

This happened because, as art educators, we are not doing our jobs "smart" enough. We have not been educating our administrators and board members on the empowerment students achieve in education because of the arts. For example, in Flagstaff, all educators worked diligently for a budget override campaign, but it was assumed the override would pass. It didn't. We lost a vital art curriculum-based program for our elementary students by a mere 350 votes.

Enter SMART (Save Music and the Arts)--a newly-formed parental support group for quality art(s) education. SMART was established after the local Flagstaff Arts Council hosted a community forum on the art cutbacks in the schools. It was vital to get support from an "outside" supporter of the arts in the schools in order for SMART to begin its existence. District administrators and school board members were invited and answered questions and concerns on the budget, how decisions were made to cut which programs, and the outlook for the future of the arts in the schools. When the two-hour forum ended, the mediator from the Arts Council asked that any parents interested in developing a support network for the arts in the Flagstaff Schools remain. Four parents volunteered, and SMART was born.

Establishing goals

Monthly SMART meetings are held at various elementary schools throughout the district in order to increase awareness of the organization throughout all segments of the community. Art, music and theatre teachers have been invited to serve on an advisory board for imput on curricula, essential skills and teacher concerns on the arts programs. These meetings have been publicly announced in the local newspaper under a "Community Calendar."

Initially, eight goals were established by SMART.

1. Attend and speak at school board meetings.

2. Establish letter writing campaigns to the school board and local newspaper.

3. Develop a network to disseminate information (P.T.A.'s).

4. Organize a "Design a T-Shirt in Support of the Arts Day".

5. Increase SMART membership.

6. Register voters for future elections.

7. Reinstate the Model School District in Art Recognition from the Arizona Department of Education.

8. Protect and promote quality education.

The basic philosophy of SMART is simple: a quality education must include the arts beginning at the primary levels. It recommends that die arts be taught by certified arts specialists, with time to fulfill Arizona Essential Skill requirements and give sequence to curriculum.

Meeting goals

Within five months, SMART has met the majority of these goals. It has had representation at every school board meeting since its establishment. Letters to the editor have been routinely written; the first "Design a T-Shirt Day" was held in conjunction with our 1990 Youth Art Month opening, and was a tremendous success. SMART parents organized the donations of fabric paint, markers and brushes from local businesses, which, in itself, promoted the "keep arts in our schools" theme.

Currently SMART is investigating filing for incorporation, with legal advice donated by a local attorney. Because SMART's income is well under $5,000 and non-profit, this "Arts Task Force" is still eligible to apply for grants to keep and further develop the arts that were cut even without incorporation status.

The next two immediate goals are:

1. to host--with our district administration (important!)--a "high profile" arts education community event. The Flagstaff Arts Council has been instrumental in bringing in top-notch speakers on art, music and theatre education, along with well-known businessmen and women throughout the state who are strong advocates of education. Local legislators and former arts graduates from the schools will also be involved. With a major art exhibition/demonstration by local students, performances by theatre and music students at this special arts event, SMART hopes to attract more community people and parents in order to expand membership, and increase awareness on the importance of the arts in public school education to the Flagstaff community.

2. the endorsement of two candidates for the two school board seats up for election next fall: it is vital that strong support for quality arts education be obtained to support the campaign of candidates who are committed to arts in the schools, and who feel the arts are essential, fundamental and curricular, not extra curricular.

Making a difference

SMART has proven itself to be a true model for the development of an "Arts Task Force" in a community. Although the status of art and theatre programs in Flagstaff will remain the same for 1990-91, there have been no further cuts in arts programs. SMART's dedicated leadership in support of a quality, well-rounded education which includes the arts, is having impact on this community. However, its efforts must be given total support by local arts educators.

As teachers of art, we have a professional obligation to our students to continue to educate our lawmakers, district administrators and community on the importance of the arts in education. Therefore, Think Smart! Organize a local "Arts Task Force" in your district now, for "smarter" planning now will ensure positive support for visual art programs in the future.

Karen Butterfield teaches art at Conconino High School, Flagstaff, Arizona. Photographs by Steve Marcus, The Arizona Daily Sun. Flagstaff, Arizona.
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Author:Butterfield, Karen
Publication:School Arts
Date:Dec 1, 1990
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