The Power of the Arts in the School
by Heidi Yetman, présidente  |  1/30/2017

On Saturday, January 21st, the day after the inauguration, I attended the women's rally at Place des Arts in solidarity with the Women's March in Washington, D.C. One of the many speakers who spoke at the rally called on all artists: visual artists, musicians, filmmakers, actors, choreographers, writers, etc., to do what they do best; to express through art how important democracy and equality is at this moment in history. She understands that art is a great communicator.

Recently, I have been reading about the influences of music on the development of the child. There have been studies that have shown that music has a significant impact; music allows for fine motor and psychomotor development, increases organizational abilities, develops memory and improves cognitive flexibility. These studies have also shown that these skills can lead to a better understanding of math and languages. The Montreal Symphony Orchestra music director, Kent Nagano, has brought a two-year intensive classical music program to pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students in a Montreal-North school. In collaboration with researchers from the Université de Montréal, Nagano hopes to show that learning music can help children develop their full potential.

Of course, my experience is in the art room. The art room is an exclusive space; it allows students to push their boundaries and to learn through investigation and problem solving. Through imagination and creativity, students learn about the world around them. Students can look beyond test scores and evaluations and really gain a strong social based knowledge. I've always allowed my students to explore their own narrations and concerns and learn how they fit into today's society. I have discovered that the art class is the place where critical thought can occur if we, the art teachers, are willing to become anarchists, push the boundaries, go beyond technique and artistic language. The curriculum is open and the possibilities are endless.

As an art teacher, I frequently met parents who were concerned about their child pursuing arts after high school. They often said that they were apprehensive about the lack of employment. In response, I always told them the story about one of my former students. He chose art as his option all the way through high school, studied fine arts in college and then obtained a degree in the arts at the University of Toronto. Since college, his artwork spoke about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I remember a series of paintings in particular, in which he painted dilapidated teddy bears laying on the ground in war zones. Because of this intense interest, he decided to pursue middle-eastern studies. He is now in the process of completing his doctorate at the prestigious London School of Economics and Political Science. I have kept in touch with him and recently I asked him how art has helped him.

"I tell my colleagues (and my students) that my degree in art helped me in indescribable ways. Art school really taught me how to think critically about everything and anything, forced me to accept criticism (and divorce myself from my work), and to never accept failure as the end of a journey -- all of which my colleagues in the PhD are still trying to process and overcome, specially when it comes to publishing, presenting and challenging more established academics." (Former Student, 2015)

Art was the catalyst that pushed him forward to where he is today. Art may be the stepping-stone to something completely unexpected.

It's important to push students beyond their comfort zone. The arts allow for aesthetic experiences, which enable students to understand and connect to the world around them. In the School Board's Arts and Culture in Education Policy it states “The exposure of students to the four basic expressions of the arts --Dance, Drama, Music, and Visual Arts, as well as to cultural experiences, allows them to acquire a broad view of the world.” It is really important that our schools maintain these mandatory options and follow the MEES curriculum. I am hopeful that the arts will not be forgotten in education.

References:

Kent Nagano brings free music lessons to Montreal North preschool

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/kent-nagano-montreal-north-preschool-classical-music-1.3875428

De la musique classique à la maternelle

Kent Nagano lance un programme d'initiation à la musique classique en milieu défavorisé

http://www.ledevoir.com/societe/education/485965/la-maternelle-en-musique

L'impact de la musique chez l'enfant

http://www.lapresse.ca/arts/musique/201612/01/01-5046882-limpact-de-la-musique-chez-lenfant.php

Encore la musique...

http://www.lapresse.ca/debats/votre-opinion/201601/19/01-4941478-encore-la-musique.php

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