Don’t Stop Believin’ (In the Arts)

Singers+and+dancers+pose+for+the+camera

Ivan Calixto

Singers and dancers pose for the camera

The audience burst into applause as the lights dimmed in the school auditorium at the end of one of the annual Broadway showings. With tunes such as “Blame it on the Boogie” and “Uptown Funk” performed by talented student singers, energetic beats played by members of our band classes, and groovy moves laid down by our school’s best dancers (all performed on an impressive stage created by members of our school’s tech crew.) Broadway combines dance, band, and choir to make a theme based show that rocks the student body every year.

With dozens of students involved in the production, dedicating hundreds of hours, it may be surprising that participation in the performing arts among students has been drastically decreasing each year. Unfortunately, that is the case. According to the Survey of Public Participation in the Arts, released by the NEAit has decreased by five percent each year since 2008.

The benefits of participating in a fine art during high school have been extensively documented. Evidence shows that fine arts participation leads to higher test results, improved concentration, and increased involvement in the community. However, a Department of Education survey reports, the arts are often among the first programs to suffer once schools enter budget cuts.

John Wilson, executive director of the National Education Association, said, “The current public policy [on funding for the fine arts]…is narrowing the curriculum and limiting access to the arts for the very children who rely on the public schools to enhance their creative being,” which Wilson claims, is in turn boring students into disengagement, causing them to lose connection between the classroom and the real world.

“As horrible as it sounds,” says AVHS senior Stephanie Kahle, “when activities don’t get the proper funds, many students are deterred from joining.”

Stephanie Kahle as the lead of our fall production "9 to 5"
Jeremy Olson
Stephanie Kahle as the lead of our fall production “9 to 5”

It is estimated that by the end of this year, more than 25% of public high schools will have completely gotten rid of fine arts education according to the NEA’s recent 2016 article. For many educators like Kristin Blatzheim, AVHS dance teacher, this decline has been an issue for a while.“I obviously find it sad, but also find it the reality. The arts have always been underfunded and some people don’t see the value in studying them.”

Although some schools may not see the value in the arts, students certainly do. Kahle, who is part of the Valley Select Chorale as well as an avid participant in our theater productions, said that participating in choir is, “one of the best decisions I’ve made through high school. Choir is a class you can count on to be fun, relax, but also productive, and theater is a chance to escape stress from school or work.”

“Band helped me meet a lot of new people and really got me involved with the high school when I was too scared to do anything else,” said AVHS senior Emma Sackett. “It is a way to express myself creatively and gives me a nice break in my day.”

Although the drop in arts enrollment happens most in high school, it is happening in grade school, as well. In 1999, 20% of elementary schools offered visual arts, such as drama or dance. In 2009, the number had dropped to just 4%, according to the Association of American Educators.

However, there are ways that we can prevent this decline from dropping even more, ones that don’t rely solely on money.

The band getting ready to perform on stage
Ivan Calixto
The band getting ready to perform on stage

“I think we need to keep presenting the arts programming we have at AVHS to the student body and the community and reminding them that this means something significant to these students and their attendance at our shows continues making Broadway, Danceworks, the musical, spring play, and all our band and choir concerts possible,” said Mrs. Blatzheim.

“I think we need to promote the arts in any way,” said AVHS senior Ally Sentz. “Show how much fun they can be and all the people you can meet. Always involve music in curriculum and really engage kids in creativity to show how great of an outlet the arts can be”

Although the future of the arts throughout the nation seems bleak, they continue to thrive at AVHS thanks to our continued support for them.

“One thing I’m so proud of AVHS for is our continued emphasis on student previews for our theater shows and Broadway,” says AVHS Vocal Music teacher and Director of Arts and Activities Bill Blatzheim. “The more we can expose students to how awesome the arts are, the more will want to be part of them.”

Broadway dancers strike a pose
Ivan Calixto
Broadway dancers strike a pose

Being in theater and band myself, ” says Sackett, “I have seen people get involved and directors working to make sure everyone can be themselves and reach their full potential.”

“In band it can be difficult to be involved because you have to be at a certain skill set to enter,” said Sentz. “But they make rentals affordable and really work with you to get you where you need to be.”

“AVHS is amazing at including as many people in the arts as possible, “ says Kahle, “from actors, techies, dancers, singers, costume, or makeup crew. If money is an issue? They’ll help! Time? They’ll help! Grades? They’ll help! We have the best administrators, teachers, and directors in our school! They are so understanding and flexible and they honestly want you to succeed!”

Without a doubt, the arts form a fundamental part of the education and development of millions of students throughout the country, and although some may view their value through a financial lens, one thing is for sure: we need them.

“There is a cultivation of soul and spirit that happens in the fine arts in a way that no other academic subject can replicates.” says Mr. Blatzheim, “Our world is always spinning forward in technology, I’m reading articles about how we will be able to 3D print cars and houses… We need people who know how to do all of this stuff! But we just have to remember that we are human beings with emotions, feelings, and spirit, and at the end of the day, you can’t 3D print a soul.”

Many involved in Broadway or any of AVHS’ fine arts programs definitely demonstrate a lot of spirit in what they do. Although the future of the arts in our nation’s schools may seem bleak, we can do as our best to support the arts, whether financially or just by showing up to a couple programs, and most of all as our sang by our Broadway singers, “Don’t Stop Believin” in them.