What I have learned is that the arts not only offer countless benefits related to the cultural, entertainment, and economic development of a city or a region, but they can also be transformational for our most important and oftentimes most vulnerable populations: young children.
In kicking off our first Community Arts Team (CAT) meeting for Any Given Child in September, members of the CAT were first met with a singular question: What was our earliest recollection of participating in the arts? Thinking back through the years and fond memories of K-12 visual arts classes, learning about the history of jazz and soul music from Professor David Baker at Indiana University, maintaining season tickets with family at the Indiana Repertory Theatre, and many trips to the Hilbert Circle Theatre, my first memory of the arts was as a young child participating in a summer program at the Indianapolis Arts Center. I remember as a six-year-old walking the banks of the White River to draw inspiration for our classroom activities, and while my memory isn’t so acute as to remembering the mediums in practice, I do remember with specificity the artistic relationship between the built and natural environment that the Indianapolis Arts Center and its grounds make so seamless. I cherished these experiences as a child, and in hindsight, I feel incredibly lucky to have grown up with parents who both valued and steered me toward participating in the arts at a very young age.
Nearly 25 years later, I find myself working closely with the arts community serving as a Community Investment Officer for the Central Indiana Community Foundation. As a Foundation employee, it is my charge to responsibly steward philanthropic resources to organizations in Central Indiana that are improving the quality of life for all people in the region through innovative and effective programs. The arts obviously play a significant and essential role in that.
Without having a professional background in the arts prior to this position, I’ve had to compensate by completing countless hours of study and participating in hundreds of community conversations to shorten the distance in understanding the various values that the arts contribute to modern society. What I have learned is that the arts not only offer countless benefits related to the cultural, entertainment, and economic development of a city or a region, but they can also be transformational for our most important and oftentimes most vulnerable populations: young children.
Beginning with James Catterall’s Doing Well and Doing Good by Doing Art study and followed by years of mounting research (much of which is conveniently aggregated on the Americans for the Arts website), we now have data that indicates students who have access to the arts or ‘arts-rich’ environments in schools are more likely to demonstrate greater social responsibility, enhanced engagement in the classroom, increased critical thinking skills, and even increased daily attendance. Therefore, it should be no surprise that additional longitudinal data demonstrates that students with higher involvement in the arts are more likely to excel academically, have higher test scores, higher graduation rates, greater community service, lower dropout rates, and higher levels of college completion and satisfaction in career later in life.
What is perhaps most important from this research is it has become increasingly clear that those who most benefit from participation in the arts are students of low-socioeconomic status (SES), minorities, and those from urban and rural school districts. In fact, low SES students with high arts involvement are more than twice as likely as their peers with low arts involvement to earn a Bachelor’s degree, have higher GPAs, graduate at higher rates, and more likely to aspire to go to college.
While this research provides powerful information that may help schools better address the achievement gap between high-resourced and low-resourced students, it is unfortunate that the students who would most benefit from increased arts involvement are also those with the least amount of access–as minority and low-income students have roughly half of the arts access of their white and suburban peers.
This lack of equity and access to high-quality arts education experiences is exactly what the Any Given Child partnership with Indianapolis Public Schools will address. Through this exciting initiative, the CAT will work together to ensure that all of our children in grades K–8 in IPS schools will enjoy sustained and quality access to meaningful arts opportunities. As the research has shown, these experiences can be life changing for our most vulnerable children.
While Any Given Child is still in planning phases, it is my sincere hope that all children in our great city will one day have the opportunity to enjoy the same wonderful offerings that I was able to as a young person in Indianapolis. Given what we know now about the power of these experiences, the stakes are too high to not give every child these opportunities.
About the Author
Heading into his fifth year at the Central Indiana Community Foundation, Andrew Black works with a variety of arts, cultural, youth development, environmental, and animal welfare organizations to find meaningful opportunities for community impact. Andrew is a native of Indianapolis, and is a graduate of Lawrence North High School and Indiana University, with degrees in Education and Political Science.
Voices for Any Given Child Indy is an initiative that gives leaders in the Indianapolis community the opportunity to focus on issues in arts education and in the community, as well as their personal investment in the success of Any Given Child Indy. Be on the look out for new posts from community leaders on anygivenchildindy.org.