Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up. ~Pablo Picasso

WHEN FIRST ELECTED TO OFFICE IN 2014, I PLEDGED to promote the arts for all schools throughout San Luis Obispo County as part of a balanced education. Five years later I am happy to report that many local arts organizations have accepted my invitation to partner with our schools and provide students art experiences along with professional artists. From Shandon to Nipomo our schools have experienced art outreach with several non-profits, art organizations, and professional performers.

Playing chess in local coffee houses is one of my favorite pastimes. During one of my Saturday morning matches back in 2017, I was approached to become more involved in some of our local music association boards. Perhaps it was the win I had just experienced or the caffeine rush from my coffee that provided me with the energy to say yes to joining another arts organization. Back in college, I was very engaged with the San Diego Opera and Gilbert & Sullivan. When we first moved to Paso Robles in the late 1980s, I was involved with Pioneer Players, a local theater group.

However as children graced our household, school events, sports activities, and the artistic endeavors of our daughters were the priority. Now that we are empty nesters my participation in the arts is more comfortable to achieve. I have always professed that an integral part of our human development must include education in the arts. Some of my previous articles featured educational research that examines the learning processes and the importance of the arts as part of our development and scholarship. My ongoing partnership with the arts involves Opera San Luis Obispo, Symphony of the Vines, Wine County Theatre, Vina Robles, the Paso Robles Education Alliance, the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, the Moca Foundation, and several other organizations.

These groups partner with the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education to provide opportunities for San Luis Obispo County students to experience the arts with professional artists in professional settings. Peter and the Wolf, Peter Pan, the Gala Extraordinaire, Café Musique, Studios on the Park, and others are just a few of what I hope will be ongoing endeavors designed to support the engagement of our schools in the broader arts community. Humanities researchers detail the arts as one of the defining characteristics of the human species and conclude that every culture has a distinct artistic aspect. Our cognitive ability to create art separate from the body is thought to have originated in Africa, but the practice may have begun at different times both genetically and culturally, across the globe (Morriss-Kay, 2010). We must consider the arts as a critical component of our academic experience.

“Arts Education” refers to education in the disciplines of music, dance, theater, and visual arts. A study in the arts is integral to our society and our human spirit. The arts have connected with many parts of the cultural heritage of Americans. Philosophers state that the arts are what make us most human, and most complete as a people. Research teaches us that the arts cannot be learned through occasional or random exposure any more than we can acquire math or science through osmosis. Education and engagement in the fine arts are an essential part of the school curriculum and an important component of the educational program for every student. Sufficient data exists to support the study and participation in the fine arts as an essential element in improving all academic areas of study. Involvement in the arts has been shown to reduce student dropout, raise student attendance, develop better team behaviors, foster a love of learning, improve student dignity, enhance student creativity, and better prepare citizens for the workplace.

We must maintain or expand levels of fine arts education in our schools, including schools with high percentages of poor and minority students. In the face of economic stress, schools and districts may be tempted to reduce their investment in anything that appears to be “extra” or unnecessary; but as previously mentioned, the arts play a significant role in supporting student learning beyond the boundaries of the fine arts classroom. In line with maintaining or expanding arts education, we must work together to see that all students have equal access to courses in various arts disciplines, regardless of their socioeconomic backgrounds. We need to recognize fine arts classes as core aspects of the academic curriculum rather than as merely “add-ons” or “feel-good” electives. The research is evident in indicating that students at all grade levels (including middle school or junior high) should be required to study fine arts. To increase student opportunities, we should assure the maintenance of funding and partnerships for arts education in our schools. It is an honor to serve as your County Superintendent of Schools.