Are the arts lost in translation?
I am the eldest of two boys. My baby brother, a junior at Southwest DeKalb High School, is no longer half my size. He has grown into a respectable, observant, and well-informed young man with a passion for video games and making people smile. As we approach his high school graduation, he and I talk often about his next steps – the “what’s next” – and, though I am confident he is building toward a solid plan-of-action, I have a few concerns.
“Well, I’m interested in mechanical engineering – but I hate math,” he said. “Then, why do it?” I questioned. He didn’t know. To be honest, I think my brother saw a well-defined path – one advertised by his school or recruiters from various colleges and universities. My brother, much like myself, is an artist – and this is not me self-imposing anything onto him; he has admitted it. “Keith, you, Ma, and I are creative. It would make sense that I did something creative, too.” He gets it. He is a visionary with the gift of drawing, building something out of nothing, and – just like his big brother, the communications specialist – making ideas into reality, but why did he not independently correlate his interest in the arts with his potential career of choice?
“The recent wave of test-based accountability reforms has negatively impacted the provision of K-12 arts educational experiences,” Drs. Daniel H. Bowen and Brian Kisida mention in their 2019 article, Investigating Causal Effects of Arts Education Experiences: Experimental Evidence from Houston’s Arts Access Initiative. According to their research, there is a link between the schools’ increased focus on STEM- and reading-based advancement exams and the decrease of time and resources for the arts. Although opportunities for arts funding have grown, many students’ (and teachers’) interests in treating the arts as a potential career option have decreased – leaving my 17-year-old brother with limited knowledge on the possibilities that lie within a career in the arts and the presumption that he must pursue a career in STEM.
So what can we, the supporters of our youth, do to help? The answer is simple. We can educate them and ourselves on the creative opportunities that exist in our communities. Georgians have access to the film and digital media industries unlike ever before, and we are dropping the artistic ball in our school systems by not bringing more attention to that. Youth should aspire to be illustrators, musicians, and creative / movie directors just as they aspire to be engineers and astronauts. Increasing student knowledge and recognition of how careers in the arts contribute to the advancement of our culture could be a step in the right direction.
In talking with my brother, I have found that simply bringing awareness to arts-related career opportunities makes a difference. About once a month, I walk him through first-hand research on what those opportunities look like. As a result, he has obtained a better understanding of what his options are. He has even expressed interest in other arts-related programs aside from those we have researched together.
Let’s start a conversation. Are you supporting a loved one with interest in an arts-related career path? What are your thoughts?
Carlton Keith Taylor, Jr. is the Creative Services Specialist at the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta, Georgia. For more information about the Woodruff Arts Center, visit woodruffcenter.org.