Dying Arts: The ongoing threat and fight to keep the arts alive

Special Reports

CABELL COUNTY, W.Va. (WOWK) – For over a decade, performing arts departments in schools across the nation have either felt the threat or have experienced cuts due to financial issues.

In January 2020, The University of Rio Grande and Community College experienced major funding cuts due to an ongoing financial crisis. According to Dr. Richard Sax, the Vice President for Student Affairs, while the art department is still intact, the university was forced to make cuts within the program.

We’ve made a number of cuts. We cut salaries… We cut a number of things.

Dr. Richard Sax

Teaching positions and courses formerly offered have been eliminated in order for the university to get back to financial stability.

One school district in West Virginia believes that art programs in schools can have a lasting effect on a student’s success in the real world. The Cabell County School District has prospered throughout the years with the addition of new and exciting art programs.

Schools within the district offer a wide variety of art programs, including:

  • Painting
  • Sculpting
  • Theatre
  • Photography
  • Music
  • Dance

Cabell County Schools superintendent, Ryan Sax says that showcasing the arts is a key ingredient in ensuring success among their students. Marisa Main, a former art teacher and the current Related Arts Academic and Academic Game Specialist, also agrees that art can help prepare students for success in the future.

It prepares them for the workforce. It prepares them for colleges. It prepares them to be successful.

Marisa Main

In Kentucky, several school districts have had to either eliminate or severely reduce their art programs due to budget cuts.

According to a survey conducted back in 2018 by the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, since 2008 “35% of (school) districts have reduced or eliminated art and music programs.”

Non-core programs, like performing arts, are usually the first to be eliminated in a situation regarding a budget issue. Anne Stephens, the Extension Agent for Fine Arts and Community Development, University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, released a statement in regards to the importance of the arts in school districts across the state.

“The arts are an integral part of public school because ALL people need the empowerment of connecting with each other on an emotional level. The arts have a language all their own that allows people to express ideas and elicit emotions. This language is learned through experience. Arts experiences in school with teachers who are skilled artists and musicians is an important part of the education experience. Schools who provide this opportunity are not only educating students, they are providing solace for those with difficult situations at home and preparing all students to be strong adults in a difficult world.”   

– Anne Stephens

While many school districts within the tri-state believe that cutting art departments could be holding back their students from reaching their full potential, others may see art as nonessential.

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