You read all about my love for Wallace Foundation here, and thought – wow! Give me more of that! Well, I listened. As I mentioned before, a major tenant of the Wallace study was the need for arts education. Research shows that education level is the most important characteristic in predicting arts participation. “On average, the more education one has, the more one values the arts, supports government funding for arts institutions, supports school arts programs, and engages in a wide variety of creative activities (DiMaggio and Useem, 1980).” (Wallace study, p. 18)
Looking beyond general education level, arts learning in particular and early education about and exposure to the arts strongly influence the level of adult participation in arts activities. To fully understand and appreciate individual works of art, it is often necessary to have some sort of context in which to view it – factual knowledge about arts creation or the historical evolution of artistic practice. Yes, we should focus on educating young children so they may grow up to be arts patrons and collectors. But what about the generation – my generation – of relatively ignorant would-be arts enthusiasts? Where do we fit in?
The lack of background knowledge is a huge perceptual barrier we face to making an attempt to be involved with art. Educate us, so we can nurture our children’s art education. We are ripe for the picking.
Here comes the big idea. Brace yourself. Let’s develop a hands-on, experiential, arts survey curriculum that could be replicated from city to city. (And by “let’s”, I’m thinking “you”, because I have a bus to drive.) A small group of people would sign up for a year-long class that met twice per month and was led by a local art curator or educator. One session per month would focus on the history and overview of a particular medium, and the other session would involve a field-trip to experience that medium, supplemented by a guided tour, discussion, etc. by a local expert/curator/artist. Throughout the year, participants would learn about and experience all types of art, from modern dance to sculpture. Having this familiarity would lower the perceptual barrier to entry for experiencing other arts events and give participants a taste for a wide variety of cultural experiences – a taste that could develop into a passion.
According to the study, “relevant factual knowledge is essential to understanding and appreciating art forms and specific works of art” (Wallace Study, p. 22), and this knowledge can help people approach art with more confidence and insight, leading to a greater connection to and understanding of the piece. Also, having a group to discuss individual works of art and performances with provides a community and a sounding board for impressions and opinions.
A potential criticism would be that this course would appeal to people already interested in the arts, but I feel that is a solid start. It’s broadening audiences (increasing participation by those who already are inclined to do so) more than diversifying audiences, but hopefully one would lead to the other. Although I know a good bit about photography, I know virtually nothing about opera. I would love to participate in this course, and maybe opera would really appeal to me. Then I would start attending performances and drag along some friends, who may then become intrigued. It’s a slow build. But it’s important.