Summer 1998 Journal: Arts Make Mighty Impact on New England, But Face Critical Challenges

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Summer 1998
For more information, contact:
John O. Harney, Executive Editor, Connection
617.357.9620
email: connection@nebhe.org

Arts Make Mighty Impact on New England, but Face Critical Challenges, according to noted New England Journal

New issue of New England Board of Higher Education’s Connection magazine features major articles on arts education and role of arts in regional economy

Commentaries explore “regionalism” in the Information Age

For more information, contact:
John O. Harney, Executive Editor

BOSTON-Though the arts play a critical role in New England’s economic and cultural life, arts education faces severe challenges in the region, according to articles in the new edition of Connection: New England’s Journal of Higher Education and Economic Development.

The Summer 1998 issue of Connection includes major articles on the arts in New England by Bennington College President Elizabeth Coleman, New England Conservatory President Robert Freeman, Massachusetts College of Art President Katherine Sloan, Trinity College Theater Professor Arthur Feinsod and Rhode Island School of Design Professor Paul A. C. Sproll.

Though New England is home to just 5 percent of the U.S. population, New England’s colleges and universities award 8 percent of U.S. college degrees in arts and music-and, along with the region’s museums, cultural organizations and artists, garner 7 percent of funds awarded by the embattled National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), according to Connection.

While New England’s historical leadership in higher education has eroded on so many fronts, the region’s contribution to arts education appears to be growing.

New England campuses granted more than twice as many bachelor’s and doctoral degrees in arts and music in 1995 than they did in 1970, and nearly twice as many master’s degrees in those fields. Nationally, the number of bachelor’s and master’s degrees granted in arts and music grew by just 27 percent and 33 percent, respectively, during that 25-year period, while the number of doctorates granted in those fields grew by 49 percent.

But despite the importance of the arts in New England, Connection commentators warn of tough challenges.

NEA funding in New England plunged from nearly $14 million in 1988 to less than $7 million last year. Meanwhile, arts, culture and humanities account for just 3 percent of American charitable contributions.

Moreover, state arts support has never fully recovered from the region’s recession. State support for the arts in New England neared $26 million or $1.95 per capita in 1988, but dipped below $9 million or 67 cents per capita during the depths of the recession of the early 1990s, dragged down primarily by a precipitous drop in Massachusetts arts funding. Despite gradual improvement since then, state investment in arts throughout New England remains below $21 million or $1.54 per capita-still better than the national per-capita state investment of 82 cents!

The problems facing the arts are also evidenced “by the second-class treatment of arts faculties at all levels and the fear among many parents that their children might squander tuition dollars by taking arts courses or, worse, pursuing arts majors,” according to Connection.

Arts educators lament the artistic deficiencies of students who arrive at the doors of college admissions offices. Some urban school districts haven’t taught music in 25 years, and too many students are steered away from music and arts by insensitive teachers. For example, the New England Conservatory’s Freeman tells of the time he asked the president of Eastman Kodak about his interest in music. “Alas, I have a tin ear,” the powerful businessman told Freeman, adding, “I wanted to sing in the choir in the seventh grade, but was told by the director of that group that I had absolutely no ability in music.”

Higher education has offered little incentive for schools to offer a serious arts curriculum. For example, admissions officers-even at colleges claiming to specialize in the arts-have historically “factored out” grades in arts courses when reviewing an applicant’s academic records.

Commentators propose a variety of reforms and improvements. For example, some suggest that colleges require a certain number of high school arts credits for admissions (and in the process, give school districts an incentive to reinstate the arts and music programs

they had cut at the first signs of budgetary trouble). Some call on colleges to: upgrade teacher education in the arts; improve arts courses for non-arts majors; require that fine arts students take arts policy courses so they can help frame public debate; and give academic credit for artistic performance as they would for a business-oriented internship.

Connection is the quarterly journal of the nonprofit New England Board of Higher Education (nebhe)-and America’s only regional journal on higher education and the economy.

The new issue also features articles on interstate regionalism and New England public policy by New England Council President James T. Brett and noted author and columnist Neal R. Peirce, whose 1970s book The New England States remains an authoritative resource on the people and politics of the region.

Following is a summary of articles in the new issue of Connection:

Art for New England’s Sake!

Connection Executive Editor John O. Harney notes that “The economic impact of arts programs is revealed not only in quantifiable terms like employment and ticket sales, but also in the region’s quality of life and, indeed, in the creativity that underlies New England’s fabled capacity to innovate.” Adds Harney: “Montserrat College of Art expands in downtown Beverly, Mass., and, like magic, quality restaurants appear. The Maine College of Art takes over an abandoned Portland department store, and southern Maine lawyers, accountants and entrepreneurs receive a signal: stick with the seacoast city.”

Trafficking in Wonder: The Arts and the Liberal Arts

Trinity College Theater Professor Arthur Feinsod explains why the arts find little support even in higher education institutions. “A work of art, in its purest sense, tends to be ‘useless,’ much like a liberal arts education,” he writes. “One would think that the arts and the liberal arts would stick together: a camaraderie of the useless, two impractical buddies paddling together against the swift current of American pragmatism in the name of something higher. But facing the harsh realities of diminishing funds, neither the arts nor the liberal arts can afford to strap its cause to a partner perhaps more impractical than itself.” Among other things, Feinsod says colleges should require students to complete art-making courses, “so they will never again take artistic achievement for granted.”

The Arts and Society: Looking Ahead

Bennington College President Elizabeth Coleman warns that “while art collapses distinctions between the young and the old, the privileged and the unprivileged, the powerful and the powerless, artists must not let this capacity become yet another rationale for abandoning standards of excellence.” Adds Coleman: “Compare the number of times you have heard that the fundamentals of literacy include the capacity to see, to move, to hear, and to listen with the number of times you have been told of the importance of reading and writing. This very limited perspective is troubling for the arts-and even more so for education.”

College Music: A Work in Progress?

New England Conservatory President Robert Freeman calls for reforms in music education. Among them: 1) view music as a whole on campus so musical instruction makes listeners more active participants in the creative process; 2) re-focus musical specialists and encourage collaboration among different disciplines; and 3) encourage musical literacy by making sure topnotch faculty teach introductory college courses in music.

Arts: A Practical Argument

The practical value of an arts education has been recognized in New England at least since the 1870s, when the public Massachusetts College of Art and the private Rhode Island School of Design were created at the urging of business leaders who saw a need for homegrown designers to support the region’s surging textile industry. Massachusetts College of Art President Katherine Sloan explains how artists fuel today’s New England economy.

Visual Arts in the Schools: A Joint Venture

Rhode Island School of Design Professor Paul A. C. Sproll explains how RISD is working with Ocean State elementary and secondary schools to devise arts curriculum and boost professional development for art teachers.

New Lessons in Regionalism

Author and columnist Neal R. Peirce explains why a strong Internet presence will be among the distinguishing features of tomorrow’s most successful metropolitan or multistate regions. “Yet New England, known as a high-tech region, presents a pitiful image of itself on this, the high-tech medium of our time,” writes Peirce.

History Drives Us

New England Council President James T. Brett traces the issues that have confronted-and united-New England businesses since the council was formed 70 years ago to stanch the flow of textile jobs to the South. Notes Brett: “Regional unity is much more popular when the economy is flat, taking a downturn or facing a particular challenge.”

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