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Arts Education Gets White House Attention

Celebrities and advocates discuss the importance of arts education with the Obama administration.

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Officials from President Obama's administration met with arts education activists in late July, including nonprofit executives, actors, and school administration officials, to discuss the impact of arts education and express concerns about its diminished role in school curricula.

The meeting was part of Obama's Champions of Change program, designed to give Americans from a variety of backgrounds the opportunity to discuss their views with the administration. Past topics have included discussions about veteran affairs, fatherhood, transportation, and small businesses. Attendees included actresses Patricia Arquette, Minnie Driver, and Rachael Leigh Cook and actor Omar Epps.

[Read more about Hollywood's presence at the meeting.]

Robert Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts, an arts education activist group, says the fact that Obama invited him and others to the White House demonstrates a commitment by the administration to not allow science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education to overshadow the arts.

"There is an understanding that America has to be better on STEM issues. That's true," he says. "There's not an understanding about what is lost when arts aren't a part of the mix."

[Read about Obama's wish to train 100,000 STEM teachers in the next decade.]

He says Ramon Gonzalez, principal of a finance and technology middle school in the Bronx, told the administration that by incorporating the arts, the school has seen a great increase in attendance and classroom participation. If the principal of a STEM-focused school can see the value of the arts, Lynch says, the rest of America should be able to as well.

Students who are involved in arts education, he says, are more likely to attend class and be active participants. His position was supported by a policy paper released by President Obama in May.

"In essence, STEM benefits," Gonzalez says. "America's role has always been to be more creative than other countries. You have to have arts in the schools in order for that to be the case."

As states face budget cuts, many are forced to cut programs. Often, arts education programs are the first to go. Some corporate philanthropic organizations, like the VH1 Save the Music Foundation, can provide funding and supplies for arts education, Lynch says. But he believes that government funding is necessary for arts education to have any real presence in public schools nationwide.

[Learn about musicians supporting arts education.]

"I think outside sources are a spectacular and wonderfully needed enhancement, but this is a core priority of our society, not an add-on," he says. "These wonderful programs across the country are not large enough for systemic change in every school."

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