The Importance of Arts Education

Last Updated by Ernest Disney-Britton on

My son had just about every opportunity afforded to a child growing up in a middle-class family, including privileges at home and during school to sing, dance, paint, and express himself creatively. My spouse and I could not have been prouder during his first semester in college when he took us on a tour of all the places on his campus where he was still experiencing the arts. That early engagement in his youth made our son acutely aware that there were thousands of other children who didn't have those same opportunities. Our son knew it wasn't fair, that there was nothing equal about it. 

According to the Indianapolis Star, "Indiana ranks 25th for education, its best ranking to date," and they reported that the Indianapolis Public Schools graduation rates are among the worst in the state. At the same time, we know that students who are involved in the arts are 4 times more likely to participate in math and science fairs; 3 times more likely to win an award for school attendance; 4 times more likely to recognized for academic achievement; 3 times more likely to be elected to class office; and even have a drop-out rate that is 5-times lower than their peers. Shocking, though, is the discrepancy of art opportunities available to minority versus white students. According to Americans for the Arts, African American and Hispanic students have less than half the access to arts education than their white peers. 

We are at a crossroad, and unless we act boldly and collectively, access to art education will likely get worse for these children and young adults. The question then is whether Indianapolis is ready for an approach and shared vision to dramatically increase arts access and school engagement. Are we ready to leverage the benefits of the arts for our children and to agree on a set of shared measures that we will track together for years to come? Are we ready to begin seriously investing with our time, talent, and treasure in those efforts and interventions that will move kids and their families out of despair and into more hopeful, high-achieving lives?

On September 5th, the local community saw a different kind of response to these issues and opportunities in the news headlines. The front-page of the Indianapolis Star read: "IPS, Arts Council, Kennedy Center join to push arts education," because a new and exciting opportunity had been announced for all sectors of Indianapolis to come together to address inequities through improved access to arts education. Any Given Child Indianapolis is a collective impact approach that is a national model for how other communities bring all sectors together in a community to address other challenges and opportunities.  This effort is not just about educators and artists working together (although that's a great thing!), but rather, this collective impact approach is an "all hands on deck" approach. It’s driven by a shared vision, a collective will to improve a set of shared outcomes. The program is run through the adoption of a data-driven, continuous improvement mindset and work, and a real commitment by all to invest time and money in only pragmatic, attainable solutions.

Over the coming years, as we pursue this collective impact approach with the Kennedy Center, there will be numerous opportunities for the community to organize around key leadership in our city, with an emphasis on inclusion and action (no one gets left out of this work). To learn more, please visit and sign-up for updates. 


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Want to learn more about arts education, and how Central Indiana is working to ensure arts education for all students?

Join WFYIThe Indianapolis Public LibraryIndianapolis Public Schools, the Arts Council of Indianapolis, and Any Given Child for "A Conversation About Education: Ensuring the Arts for Any Given Child" at the Central Library on Monday, March 14th at 6:00 pm. More information is available on WFYI's events page. Follow along with this event and other American Graduate conversations on social media, using #AmGradIndy.


ernest disney britton.jpg Ernest Disney-Britton is the Director of Grant Services & Arts Education of the Arts Council of Indianapolis. Disney-Britton is also the site coordinator for the Arts Council’s Kennedy Center's “Any Given Child Indianapolis” program. 

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