Trudel | MacPherson tapped for Curbside Consultations at The Kennedy Center Alliance for Arts Education Network annual meeting

Some noises we’re hearing as 2011 gets underway — Snip, snip, snip – the sound of Congress cutting budgets for non essential programs; snap, snap, snap – the sound of state budgets collapsing from overstretched entitlement programs. How can arts education programs in states across the country survive and prevail?

Principals Mary Trudel and Rory MacPherson will work with members of the Alliance to help beleaguered directors and staff members find the words to reframe the conversation and help make Arts Education a high community priority, able to resist budget cuts, overcome apathy and energize advocates.

We believe language can connect as well as divide and reframing the conversation is essential to building broad based support for learning in and through arts. The Wallace Foundation funded a program called START in the middle “aughts” (2002-2006) to support State Arts Agencies (SAA’s) and help them become more effective stewards of public resources and exponents of the public value of the arts. The initiative coincided with the last mini-recession and many state arts agencies were fighting for survival.

One SAA, the Montana Arts Commission, faced with near extinction, took the conversation to the critics and conducted a listening tour, asking legislators to describe the value of the arts to their constituents. The results were chilling — most said that the arts had little or no value and were at the bottom of the list of requests for public support. Turning the conversation to shared values, SAA interviewers asked the question a different way – “How important is creativity to the health and future of Montana?” This reframing ultimately transformed the way the commission funded the arts and, even more importantly, the way they articulated the value of the arts to every citizen in every community in the state.

This language realignment may suggest a path forward for reframing discussions about arts education, perhaps without using the word “arts.”

How important is creativity to education?

What is the value of problem solving to employability?

How important are well educated, employable citizens to community health and healthy tax rolls?

One city, Dallas, which has successfully used a reframing approach, calls its arts learning programs “Thriving Minds.” (Note the word art does not appear.) Dallas city manager, Mary Suhm, has become an advocate not because she’s an arts lover but as she says, an arts rich curriculum produces, “Better students, better workforce, better tax-base.” Even the cost cutters on Capitol Hill could agree with that reasoning.

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