Summertime: the childlike promise of that word never quite leaves us, no matter how freighted we become with adult responsibilities. The promise of time unbound on beaches, the promises sworn to summer sweethearts, and the promise of childhood itself – the possibility that we can become anything we put our minds to – these thoughts return to us in the summertime. But as the shadow of school’s return breaks over August, I wonder how many young people will walk into classrooms that are ready to make good on that promise. How many students will benefit from a strong program of arts and theatre education?
The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) recently released the study Arts Education in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools 1999-2000 and 2009-10. Among many important statistics, the drop in theatre-specific instruction at elementary schools from 20% in 1999-2000 to only 4% by 2009-10 stands out. While the percentage rises to 45% for secondary schools, the narrowing curriculum caused in part by the No Child Left Behind Act appears to be abandoning the creative promise of far too many children.
Those disappointing numbers are brightened by the exciting work of many theatres ensuring theatre education is available to people of all ages in their communities. Many impactful arts education programs occur out of school, and I’ve lately had opportunity to witness first-hand the profound power of theatre in the lives of our youth. One example among hundreds: Castillo Theatre holds a month-long summer program called Youth Onstage!, in which 30 young people from some of the lowest income neighborhoods of New York City train with Castillo’s artists, attend plays and visit theatre professionals. I had the honor of spending an afternoon with this year’s students, talking with them about the national theatre field, answering questions about the opportunities and challenges of a career in theatre. I was floored by their energy and curiosity, and last week, I was honored to be a commencement speaker at the program’s graduation ceremony!
On Conference 2.0, Castillo’s Artistic Director Dan Friedman shared information on the All Stars Project in an arts education Discussion that also highlighted Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s Now Is The Time anti-violence initiative. Email Gus Schulenburg to join 2.0 Groups like Arts Education and Theatre for Young Audiences, and participate in this model-sharing and conversation so that we can better empower that summertime promise of young people.