Jill Tucker - SFGate.com - Monday, April 23, 2012
As it turns out, business leaders hiring the workforce of tomorrow don't want applicants who are really good at filling in bubbles on standardized tests.
Creativity is key, more than 1,500 executives said in a 2010 survey.
Yet California, like many states, long ago deemed creative arts a luxury, one that few schools could afford.
And so, with the backing of business, state officials have formed Create CA, a statewide initiative they hope will restore art in schools, so that paintbrushes and even pirouettes are once again as important as No. 2 pencils.
The idea is to bring together those who have labored independently for arts education. Participants want to pass legislation, increase funding and raise public awareness.
Those behind the effort - including artists, educators and executives - believe California now has enough supportive policymakers and the right mix of corporate backing and political will for the idea to succeed where similar efforts have floundered.
Gov. Jerry Brown wants it. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson wants it. Business leaders and politicians want it. Nonprofit groups focused on the arts want it and are lined up to help.
Parents have always wanted it, but have had to depend on parent groups like the PTA to pay for most of the arts programs still in schools.
"Right now - and this is an ugly truth - art is kind of going to those who can afford it," said Kris Murray, executive director of Northern California's Young Audiences, which funds artists in schools. "The current system is not good enough."
Prop. 13 dried up funds
It's not for lack of trying.
Parents and policymakers have been working to restore the arts to education since 1978, when voters approved the Proposition 13 property tax cap that dried up public funding for the arts in most California classrooms.
In 1997, state Superintendent Delaine Eastin called the lack of arts education "a silent crisis." She inspired what she hoped would become a renaissance, and soon there was a state task force on the arts, grade-level art standards, art as a college-entrance requirement, and some funding to back it up.
In 2001, Gov. Gray Davis put $10 million toward his Arts in Education program.
And the state PTA kicked off its Bring Back the Arts campaign.
Despite those efforts, by 2007, a year before the great recession hit, just 11 percent of schools complied with a state law requiring a full repertoire of arts education: music, visual arts, theater and dance.
Beyond bubble tests
Then things got even worse for the arts.
State lawmakers said in 2009 that a $109 million pool of money earmarked for art and music education no longer had to be used for those purposes, and schools could spend the cash on whatever they needed. Most didn't need art.
"If something isn't seen as critical, it has been cut," said Craig Cheslog, adviser to Torlakson. "Art in far too many districts has been among those things."
While history doesn't offer much hope, Cheslog and others behind Create CA, including the California Arts Council, believe this time things will be different.
To that end, the effort includes incorporating art into the state's scorecard used to evaluate schools, an idea already included in two bills pending in the state Legislature.
In other words, a school's grade would be based on more than bubble tests. Art would matter too.
"The things that survive are the things that we measure," Cheslog said.
In addition, reforms could include requiring more art classes for a high school diploma; mandatory art training for new teachers; a tax increase to fund art education; and the creation of theater and dance teaching credentials (in addition to existing visual art and music).
The California Arts Council has begun a new advertising campaign to promote an arts-themed license plate to raise $40 million annually for public art and arts education. Some supporters also hope to place a tax measure for the arts on the statewide ballot.
"Research has shown arts education's impact on improving test scores, building critical thinking skills, improving self-confidence, and increasing critical cognitive skills like focus and problem solving - attributes employers want most in employees of the 21st century," Malissa Feruzzi Shriver, chairwoman of the California Arts Council, said in a statement announcing Create CA.
'It's fun stuff'
San Francisco second-grader Patricia Edwards is still 15 or so years from that workforce of the future, but she has already decided that art is important.
"It's fun stuff," she said.
On a recent morning at Tenderloin Community School, the 7-year-old smiled as she studied her Navajo sandpainting, the glue still drying beneath her design of crossed arrows now covered in colored grit.
Patricia chose the design "because it means friendship," something artist Eddie Madril, a Yaqui Indian, taught her.
Like other Young Audiences-sponsored artists, Madril is paid up to $65 an hour to teach his craft in public schools.
And while each of his students leaves with a pretty picture suitable for a prime spot on the family fridge, Madril's art classes go well beyond glue and colored sand.
As important as three R's
Thursday's lesson included a cultural explanation of Indian symbols and the use of sandpaintings to heal people. Art, culture, history and a bit of science were all blended together in one "fun" package.
"It really adds to their experience, how they look at art and appreciate art," said teacher Sharon Piansay.
Ultimately, art education needs to be as important as reading, writing and arithmetic, said Young Audiences' Murray.
"We don't teach English so everyone will become writers, and we don't teach math because everyone will become a mathematician," she said. "Patching it together with baling wire and duct tape is not the answer. It has to be so integral (to education) that you can't figure out how to pull it out."
Jill Tucker is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. email@example.com