In a time when we often hear the arts being dismissed as unnecessary luxuries and when so many art classes in schools have been cut, it's nice to hear a little good news.
|Portrait of Claude Renoir Painting by Renoir, 1907, oil on canvas.|
A recent federal study of research data on the effectiveness of arts education shows, "When students participate in the arts they are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement, have higher GPA/SAT scores, and demonstrate a 56 percent improvement in spatial-temporal IQ scores. They show significantly higher levels of mathematics proficiency by grade 12, are more engaged and cooperate with teachers and peers, and are more self-confident and better able to express their ideas." The study found that these benefits are most pronounced in high-poverty, low-performing students and that these high-poverty students are being "disproportionately short-changed on arts education opportunities in their schools."
The good news comes from a small pilot program called the Turnaround Arts initiative. Taking the news from these studies seriously, a two-year public-private partnership has been developed between the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, the Ford Foundation, the Herb Alpert Foundation, Crayola, NAMM Foundation, the Aspen Institute, Booz Allen Hamilton and the National Endowment for the Arts to bring training and resources to eight participating schools that have been nominated and selected based on need, opportunity, strong school leadership and a commitment to arts education.
We first became aware of the program from a New York Times article published on December 18th, 2012, which followed 40 seventh and eighth grade students from the Roosevelt School of Bridgeport, Connecticut on their private tour with artist Chuck Close of his exhibition at the Pace Gallery in Manhattan. The Roosevelt School is one of the eight schools in the Turnaround Arts experiment.
Close is most known for his seemingly photo-realistic portrait paintings created from a grid of squares, each filled with color strokes creating a perceived average hue and tone that, when viewed from a distance pull together to create the realistic image. Chuck Close suffers from what is referred to as "face blindness" (prosopagnosia), a disorder in which the ability to recognize faces is impaired, while other aspects of visual processing remain intact. He told the students that the only way he could remember a face is to break it down into tiny pieces similar to the squares that make up his artwork. He said, "Everything about my work is driven by my learning disabilities."
The Turnaround Arts initiative is providing high-profile mentors to help the schools within its program. We look forward to the follow-up evaluations of this preliminary two-year experimental project and hope that it may be continued and expanded to inspire many more students. As Chuck Close told the students at his exhibition, "Art saved my life."
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–John & Ann