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How Arts Education Fuels the Creative Economy

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In partnership with Otis College of Art and Design: Artbound explores the latest Otis Report on the Creative Economy with online articles and video segments culminating in a broadcast special airing on KCET.

It's 9:30 am on a Wednesday morning at the Studio Middle School, a small, public school in Northeast LA. A group of 6th-graders are improvising characters in front of their peers. Students are told to stay in the "yes" space, a place of confidence and positivity. Behind shy smiles and bouts of laughter is the undeniable look of pride on the young actors' faces. Soon the bell will ring signaling the next class, but a brief salient moment of joy lingers in the air.

This is arts education in practice and the moment all educators hope to attain: joy in learning. Marca Whitten, the school's founder, shares that for some students, the arts spaces in school are where they feel most successful, even when struggling elsewhere. Whitten is unsure if they will be able to offer this class next semester due to tight funding, but is committed to finding a way. Arts instruction is a "non-negotiable," she shares, "we know that our students, living in Los Angeles, have a unique opportunity to find future work in the robust creative economy of this city."

Unquestionably, education, particularly in the arts, will play a pivotal role in preparing students' creative capacities and sustaining a creative economy. We are walking out of a nation-wide recession and counting on the new generation to sustain forward progress. William Yu, an economist with the Anderson Forecast at UCLA contends that the arts are more critical than ever in preparing students to write this new history. "Before the 19th century, U.S. economy was an agricultural economy. In the 19th century and 20th century, we turned to an industrial economy. In the 21st century, we are turning to a creative economy. In a creative economy, innovative people with new ideas, artistic view and mindset will be needed more than ever."

KCET is Southern California Television
"Robots and foreign labors will never be able to replace creative people in creating sectors making new and desirable products and services," Yu argues. "Therefore, arts education, which is an investment in our future creative workforce, will become a crucial element in our education system. A resilient economic growth and prosperity in the 21st century will depend on our arts education."

Yet, education in and through the arts has faced tremendous challenges. It's been close to forty years since the glory days of arts education. However, as education and society have evolved, a different story has emerged. Increased attention to testing and test scores has shifted the value of what's taught in the classroom; after all, what is tested is taught. In addition to these shifts, the chasm of access has widened, and issues of equity that have long plagued education have had particular impact on arts programs.

Recognizing this inequity, incredible initiatives have emerged to establish arts education as a vital part of a complete education. In 2002, the Los Angeles County Arts Commission established Arts for All - the county's regional initiative to bring arts back to schools in all 81 school districts in the county. Currently, Arts for All is established in 59 of the 81 districts providing critical support to district leadership to maintain their commitment to arts access for all students in all schools.

These initiatives and creative solutions are more imperative than ever to keep students in school. A recent report by the James Irvine Foundation found that 850,000 California youth, ages 16-24, are neither in school nor working. In an effort to address this issue, career pathway models are popping up across Los Angeles County as a way to integrate rigorous academics with career-based learning and real world workplace experiences. Among the pathways is the "Arts, Media, and Entertainment" track; which focuses its curriculum on the unique skills needed to succeed in those industries.

In the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the second-largest district in the country, serving over 650,000 students in nearly 1,000 schools, the task of equitable preparation for students has great challenges, however, new solutions are emerging.

"Limited budgets have always been a challenge for schools, especially those in high-need areas," says Rory Pullens, Executive Director of Arts Education at LAUSD. "Using the same skills that the arts promote and provide, schools are now becoming more collaborative."


Pullens is working with school leaders to build creative solutions such as partnerships with community arts organizations and industry professionals who can provide arts experiences in and out of the classroom. School leaders in LAUSD are also encouraged to diversify funding streams. Most recently, district leadership announced a policy encouraging schools to use the arts to meet Title I goals, an exciting advancement for principals eager to offer a quality education to their students.

District leaders must continue to be the visionaries we need to ensure students can thrive in today's creative sector. In a recent report, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that by 2020 there will be 1.4 million new computer science jobs in the U.S. but only 400,000 computer scientists trained to fill them. Burbank Unified, recognizing these trends, has committed to prepare their students for this trajectory by developing a Digital Media and Manufacturing pathway, which includes coding courses, while also expanding arts programming. Peggy Flynn, Arts Coordinator at Burbank Unified School District, shares, "Business leaders tell us all the time that they are looking for people who can work collaboratively, problem solve, synthesize information, communicate effectively, innovate, and have the ability to turn setbacks into wins. In the arts, innovation often happens when something goes wrong, the artist is challenged to make it work, and the results exceed expectation." It is this kind of innovation that will provide the necessary competitive edge for students.


Business leaders are seeking out more creative employees. Educational systems are changing. State leadership is moving the needle of equity. National groups are calling for increased inclusion of the arts in serving high-need students, and local communities are demanding more for their children.

The question remains -- who has access to arts opportunities? Our creative sector should reflect the diversity of our student populations if we are to reach our greatest potential. The economic viability of our region depends on our intentional actions to serve our diverse student body, English-language learners, and students living in poverty. In a region as large and diverse as L.A. County, our charge is to ensure that all children have been given the tools they need to succeed in the 21st century. These tools include access to arts education.

Analysis in the recently released Blueprint for Creative Schools revealed that only 27 percent of poor children in California are enrolled in visual and performing arts courses. Poverty rates for Latino, African-American, and Pacific Islander students are triple those of other Asian and Caucasian students. "Our research found that ethnicity and class are determining factors in access to arts education in California. This is particularly troubling since enrollment in arts courses is required for college acceptance in the CSU and UC systems," explains Dr. Shimshon-Santo of Claremont Graduate University. "Universities recognize the value of the arts, and preparation must begin in our K-12 system."


The 2013 Otis Report identified that 49 percent of creative sector jobs require a bachelor's degree or higher. So the challenge is to create a strong pipeline from Pre-K through 12th grade, through college or vocational training, and on to creative sector jobs. Currently, not all students, especially students of diversity, receive the necessary courses to fulfill high school requirements to apply to degree programs. Systemically, we must address roadblocks in access if we are to see the full potential of creative economy realized.

Student's zip code, immigration status, or socio-economic status should not be determinants of their creative preparation; however, these factors often determine their access to opportunities.

Data provides opportunities to find the gaps and build pathways to equity. The Otis Report provides a picture of what the creative economy looks like now and the future economy yet to be built. Our President may have said it best in a recent State of the Union address, "None of us can predict with certainty what the next big industry will be or where the new jobs will come from," said President Obama. "What we can do -- what America does better than anyone else -- is spark the creativity and imagination of our people. But if we want to win the future then we also have to win the race to educate our kids." The time is now and it is our responsibility, through educational access, to build a creative workforce that is reflective of the region's diversity. We must use data to inform decisions about how students are prepared and the tools needed for their success. It is critical to ensure that access to those tools, which must include the arts, are available to every child equitably.

The 2014 Otis Report is available for download online at Otis' website. View it here.

Read previous installments of our "State of Creativity" Series:

What Is the Creative Economy?
The creative economy is a vibrant and vital force in Los Angeles. Artbound provides deeper engagement with the Otis Report on the Creative Economy through an editorial series exploring the roots and effects of creativity.

Apparel Design and the Fabric of the Creative Economy
There are more eyes on the L.A. fashion industry than ever before. The industry creates billions of dollars in labor income in L.A. and Orange County.

How Creative Placemaking Plays a Role in the Creative Economy
The concept of "creative placemaking," the integration of a community's artistic and cultural assets in community planning and revitalization, is gaining momentum in places like Boyle Heights.

Southern California's Interconnected Art Ecosystem
With an economic output of $93 million in 2013, L.A. and Orange County's galleries are punching far above their weight when it comes to their economic impact.

How Art, Science, and Technology Interact in Southern California
Over the past few decades, artists and scientists have helped bring focus to the art-science-technology track of Southern California's present creative economy.

Artbound Special Episode "State of Creativity"
A special episode on the Otis Report on the Creative Economy.

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