Make NYC the Arts Education Capital of the World

We all know that Pablo Picasso was a disciplined student of the arts. But did you know that Condoleezza Rice trained to be a concert pianist and Microsoft co-founder, and billionaire, Paul Allen, plays in a rock band?

What’s the connection? According to multiple studies and surveys of leaders, music and the arts open pathways to creative thinking and can be a key element in career success in fields outside the arts. In fact, according to a 2010 IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs, creativity was identified as the number one leadership competency of the future.

So what are we doing here in New York City, the cultural capital of the world and the nation’s largest school system—with over 1.1 million students—to foster creative potential in our youth?

Well, it depends where you look.

Our city is home to some of the greatest public schools in the nation where innovation and creativity thrive. And yet we have hundreds of schools that are subpar, under-resourced in the arts, sciences and other areas, and generally not providing the rich and engaging curriculum that students deserve and parents expect.

These inequities were highlighted in a recent report by the Independent Budget Office that found that students living in poverty - and Black and Latino students - did not have the same level of access to rigorous coursework including AP courses, science and arts classes, as well as school space and facilities that many of their peers do.

This is problematic from an equity point of view, but is also counter-productive to our educational goals and ambitions as a city.

According to unreleased research findings from the School Arts Support Initiative, an arts-in-education development program that my organization ran, arts improved the whole school community -- higher teacher and student morale, collaboration in the school building, and student attendance -- as well as led to significant gains in English and math scores on state exams compared to peer schools.

The evidence is clear: the arts are a pathway to success and school improvement. And we’re not talking about turning out the next Picasso. In-depth arts engagement imparts critical skills such as the ability to innovate, create, critique, collaborate and communicate - all essential skills that employers demand.

Recently, in big cities like Chicago, Los Angeles and Seattle, civic leaders have joined together with parents, students, cultural institutions and industry to advance ambitious plans to expand access to arts education and creative learning. Not for some students, for all students.

Now, it is New York City’s turn. With a new mayor set to take office and an increased public understanding of the importance of arts and creative learning for our public school students, the time is ripe for bold leadership to expand educational opportunity citywide.

There are some immediate steps we can take to fix the problem: the city should set a goal of ensuring that every school has a certified arts teacher on staff and a partnership with one of the city’s rich array of arts and cultural organizations, and that funding and professional support is made available to under-resourced schools.

In addition, the city should send a message that the arts are a priority by including them in a meaningful way in the schools' progress reports and accountability system.

With our vast array of arts and cultural opportunities, artists, and creative industries, New York City should strive to not only be the cultural capital of the world but the arts education capital of the world, where the next generation of global leadership is nurtured.