Congressional Briefing: The Value of Equitable Arts Education

On December 9, 2021 the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Commission on the Arts, stated their case in a Congressional Briefing to two architects of the Arts Education for All Act (HR5581), Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR1) and Chellie Pingree (D-ME1). During the briefing members of the Commission, including Co-Chairs John Lithgow (Actor), Deborah Rutter (The Kennedy Center), and Natasha Trethewey (Professor and Poet) presented their findings from their report released this past summer, Art for Life’s Sake 

The Regional Arts & Culture Council has endorsed the Arts Education for All Act, along with hundreds of other arts organizations across the country and 31 current House Members including, Oregon’s Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR3). Click here if you would like to join us in support of HR5581. 

During the hearing, an arts education partner Paul S Sznewajs, Executive Director from Ingenuity-Chicago, spoke to the importance of data to address inequity in arts education. Locally in Multnomah County, we have partnered with Portland Public School and Parkrose to gather real-time data on the state of the arts in our schools through our online platform artlook® with our partners,  the Kennedy Center’s Any Given Child program and Ingenuity-Chicago. The data available to the districts can demonstrate the gaps in arts education in our schools, as well as highlight our successes.  

These data points better inform and guide districts to address shortcomings and establish strong community relationships with arts organizations across the city. We know  arts not only provide a skill set that is critical in our creative economy but the arts help heal, connect, build relationships and can help move us forward out of trauma. We know having a robust well-rounded education, which includes the arts, keep kids in school, exposes us to diverse cultures, teaches empathy and compassion, expands our knowledge, encourages us to think critically, participate in civic engagement, and most importantly, bring us joy. Chanda Evans, who leads the Arts Education Program, at RACC was able to ask the question— “How can parents become more involved?” Congresswoman Bonamici replied “…Telling stories. It really makes a difference. When we talk about policy in the abstract, it is not nearly as compelling as telling a story about a child who benefited from arts education…” Our recent interview with the Congresswoman on November 5, 2021 also highlights the need for telling our personal stories on the impact of an art education in our lives.  

This act of storytelling resonates with RACC and we ask you to share your arts education stories with us. We all have that one teacher who made all the difference. They may have been a librarian who said to you, “Wow, you read a lot, have you thought about writing?” The science instructor, who noticed you had a knack for constructing robotics, suggested you might enjoy stop animation. Maybe you seemed bored and did not participate in class and your teacher said, “Hey, why don’t you think about band?” Arts education that is infused in our lives through a well-rounded education connects us to the world around us, enables us to thrive and survive and makes us better humans.  

What can you do? Endorse the act as an individual or organization. Share your stories with RACC.  Don’t forget to pay your Arts Education and Income Tax Fund (AEAF) of $35 by April 15th if you are a resident of Portland, which puts k-5 arts educators in the classrooms of 6 districts. They include Centennial, David Douglas, Park Rose, Portland Public, Reynolds, and Riverdale School Districts. We thank you.  



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Arts Education for All 2021 Act


On Oct. 15, Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR, District 1), Chair of the Education and Labor Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Human Services, Chellie Pingree (D-ME), and Teresa Leger Fernández (D-NM) introduced comprehensive legislation to increase access to arts education. Bonamici hosted a virtual rollout and reception of her Arts Education for All Act (H.R.5581), that will address equity gaps in access to arts education for K-12 students and youth and adults in the justice system.

The Arts Education for All Act has been endorsed by more than 300 national, state, and local organizations, including Americans for the Arts, National Association of Music Merchants, and Grantmakers for the Arts. We’ve added our name to the list of supporters and you can, too.

As an arts and culture organization with social justice embedded in our mission, vision, and values, we support arts organizations and artists that make a difference in our community through their impactful engagement in the arts with at-risk youth. The Arts Education for All Act will only enhance these programs.

“Arts and culture education for every Oregonian is our goal because it is critical to our understanding of each other, our healing, and our progress as a country,” said Sue Hildick, Senior Advisor to the Cultural Advocacy Coalition of Oregon. We are beyond proud that our congresswoman has made this a priority.”

The bill covers various aspects of Arts Education including:

Caregiving & Early Education

  • Makes sure Child Care Development Block grant funding can be used for arts programming.

K-12 Access & Supporting Arts Educators

  • Expands Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) plan requirements to clarify how states can support and encourage arts education to improve student achievement in all subjects
  • Guarantees professional development for arts educators and for all educators on arts integration
  • Directs research activities on arts and arts education at the Institute of Education Sciences
  • Provides critical data to assess arts education disparities by reinstating the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in the Arts, which was terminated in 2019.

Afterschool & Summer Learning

  • Reinforces that the integration of the arts and arts education can be accomplished by 21st Century Community Learning Centers and other arts nonprofit organizations
  • Incorporates support for partnerships to increase the amount of arts education and creative youth development available in afterschool and summer learning programs in state plans.

Arts Education and the Justice System

  • Requires state plans under the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act to describe how the state will coordinate services and activities for juvenile justice and delinquency prevention with arts agencies and arts organizations
  • Facilitates arts education to be used for reentry efforts and to reduce recidivism by connecting adults involved in the justice system to educational opportunities and employment after reentry.

Read the press release from Oregon Representative Suzanne Bonamici here.

Locally, look no further than the Morpheus Youth Project’s mural program and the Multnomah County Court House Youth collaboration to see the importance of creativity in young people’s development. We know that it takes a village to raise, support, and elevate our youth. RACC is proud to promote and support these programs and collaboration with youth in our community.

Our artlook®oregon, a partnership with the Kennedy Center and Ingenuity-Chicago, provides a real-time arts education database platform that connects communities, schools, and families to arts-related resources in their backyard. These partnerships create the opportunity for a well-rounded arts education to be possible for all K-12 youth in our schools.

The Arts Education for All Act addresses the gap in access to arts education and has the potential to improve the lifelong  health and achievement of both children and adults. Arts education and programming can be federally funded under various existing programs, however, currently there is a lack of clarity and information available about how the funds can be used. Unfortunately, as we have witnessed in the Pacific Northwest, this results in limited and inequitable access to the arts for students and adults in underserved communities.

“The Arts Education for All Act will help bring the power of arts education to early childhood programs, low-income K-12 students and systems-involved youth on a scale we haven’t seen before,” said Eddie Torres, President and CEO of Grantmakers in the Arts. “By empowering childcare, K-12 schools, and programs serving systems-involved youth, this bill has the potential to enrich lives and expand educational opportunities for millions,” said Eddie Torres, President and CEO of Grantmakers in the Arts. “The arts community, but most importantly the children of our nation, owe a great deal of thanks to the innovative leadership of Representative Bonamici for introducing this critical legislation.”

If this becomes legislation, it will support and encourage arts education and programming for our youngest learners, K-12 students, including youth and adults involved in the criminal court and justice systems. The bill also includes provisions that support rigorous arts and arts education research to continue to inform how elementary and secondary education outcomes are affected by a well-rounded education.

The Arts Education for All Act incorporates support for partnerships to increase the amount of arts education and creative youth development available in afterschool and summer learning programs in state plans. We know art changes lives. We understand that a well-rounded arts education includes arts integration. This Act reinforces that the integration of the arts and arts education can be accomplished by 21st Century Community Learning Centers and other arts nonprofit organizations.

In collaboration with Trauma Informed Oregon, this spring we kicked off a series of trauma-informed workshops for our K-12 arts educators in six school districts in Multnomah County running through the 2021-2022 school year. These workshops are free, virtual, and provide much-needed resources to ensure our arts educators have the tools they need to address the trauma that we have all experienced. We know that the arts enable students to express themselves and navigate through stress and anxiety. The Arts Education for All Act guarantees professional development for our arts educators and arts integration specialists. We are proud to recognize the importance of social-emotional healing and recovery through the arts and provide these valuable workshops in our community.

Support the Arts Education for All Act by signing up and showing your individual and/or organizational support today!

A one-page summary of the Arts Education for All Act can be found here. The text of the legislation can be found here.

For more information please contact Chanda Evans & Mario Mesquita