Both nationally and statewide, there is a growing recognition that arts education is essential to society.

And/Or. It’s a top auto manufacturer’s ad campaign implying that “and” is a much better option. The choice is the same when it comes to the arts and business.

The arts and business are inseparable from and dependent upon one another. Both nonprofit and for-profit arts-related groups and businesses provide employment, wages and taxes. They foster the innovation and collaboration necessary for the economy and our society to work and thrive. Artists, designers, architects, writers, publishers, electronic and media producers, performers, decorators, educators—they are all essential members of your neighborhood and community, providing the creative skills and output that improve the appearance and flow of life.

But you already know that, right? You might, but not everyone does. At least not enough to believe how important arts education is to our society.

Developing Statewide Policies
Over the past few years, research and analysis on the economic benefits of the arts—and the effort to share the details that back up these statements—have required tremendous expertise and financial support. In central Illinois, this work has been accomplished to a great degree by Arts Alliance Illinois (AAI) and ArtsPartners, with the support of numerous foundations and corporations. While much of this information has been published, you may not have had the opportunity to review it. The AAI website, artsalliance.org, offers a myriad of reports and links for your perusal, and thankfully, local publications such as this one have helped to provide this information in recent years.

But what about arts education? How do we set the stage for future generations of creative, highly skilled and intellectually engaged artists, architects, engineers, educators, medical researchers and leaders?

The Illinois State Board of Education is working closely with AAI to develop the policies that will enable our state to provide the foundational educational experiences that can produce the great ideas of the future. The two organizations are working to find common ground around a select set of policies with the strongest potential for improving arts education access, equality and quality in Illinois. The hope is that all students in Illinois—from early childhood to adulthood—have a quality education that provides an essential foundation for success in the 21st century. Arts education provides Illinois’ students with the essential skills, knowledge and awareness they will need to be productive, college- and career-ready citizens.

We are working to develop policy advocacy related to the collection, analysis and public reporting of quantitative and qualitative data as a tool for improving arts education in Illinois. Just like the effort to research and analyze the economic impact of the arts on our lives today, this new research and policy development will recognize the impact of arts education on lives in the future.

A National Discussion
Recognizing that arts education is unquestionably important to the developing minds and lives of our children might be difficult for some, but again, the research and analysis is there to prove the value. Congressman Aaron Schock is co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional STEAM Caucus, alongside Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon. Its charge is to change the vocabulary of education to recognize the benefits of both the arts and sciences—and their intersections—to our country’s next generation.

“As co-chair of the Congressional Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) Caucus, it is my desire to promote and support policies that provide for a greater integration of the arts in the classroom,” says Rep. Schock. “Studies have shown that students who participate in the arts are more likely to engage in creative thinking as they get older. In our increasingly global economy, it is imperative that we give our students the tools to succeed worldwide.”

Congresswoman Cheri Bustos has also recently joined the caucus. Their leadership on STEAM will put us at the forefront of a national discussion about arts education, and position Illinois as a leader in working to leverage the power of creativity to prepare students to compete for the jobs and industries of the future. iBi

Duffy Armstrong is senior director of gift planning at Bradley University and has been a board member of Arts Alliance Illinois since 2006.