Supporting Art In Education

Congress designates Arts in Education Week in September
Laurel Fishman

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed H.Con.Res. 275, a resolution designating the second week of September as Arts in Education Week. The bill, authored and introduced by Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), is a significant step for arts education at a key time amid Congress' plans to overhaul the federal education policy. In supporting the positive effects of arts education, the resolution recognizes that a well-rounded education includes the development of creativity, imagination and cross-cultural understanding. Americans for the Arts is planning an Arts Education Blog Salon for the celebratory week, and resources at Americans for the Arts Action Fund will provide tools for arts advocates.

During August, the Play Me, I'm Yours interactive musical art installation brought 35 painted pianos to streets, parks and squares in Cincinnati. Created in 2008 by British artist Luke Jerram, the installation features painted upright pianos placed in public, allowing individuals to play or listen to others make music. Jerram likens his idea to providing a big, blank canvas where people can express themselves, and his worldwide installations have included 280 painted pianos in 12 different cities, with 60 pianos placed in New York in June. When Cincinnati's installation ends in mid-September, the pianos will be donated to schools and local arts centers. Later in 2010, Play Me, I'm Yours will travel to Belfast, Northern Ireland; Pécs, Hungary; San Jose, Calif.; and Grand Rapids, Mich.

The John Lennon Educational Tour Bus, a nonprofit mobile audio and HD video recording and production facility that provides free hands-on programs to thousands of U.S. children each year, is in the running for a $250,000 grant from the Pepsi Refresh Project. For more than a decade, the International Music Products Association has sponsored the bus, supporting its goal of encouraging children and teens to explore the benefits of making music. The John Lennon Educational Tour Bus has played a key part in many of NAMM's music-education advocacy efforts. With the participation of music industry professionals, the bus gives students opportunities to play music, write songs, engineer recording sessions, and produce videos using leading technological equipment.

A recently published review in Nature Reviews Neuroscience by Northwestern University researches is receiving international attention. The study addresses scientific findings of how music training strongly impacts the neuroplasticity of the brain, or the brain's ability to adapt to change, as well as augmenting language, speech, memory, and attention skills, including literacy. Because musicians are trained to hear sounds amid melodies and harmonies, this helps them to understand speech within noisy backgrounds, enhancing their ability to distinguish speech better than non-musicians. Studies indicating how music training results in new neural connections substantiate how making music prepares the brain for other forms of human communication. The findings also have important implications for helping children with learning disorders. According to researchers, "The effect of music training suggests that, akin to physical exercise and its impact on body fitness, music is a resource that tones the brain for auditory fitness and thus requires society to re-examine the role of music in shaping individual development."

A new Website called Fresh Prep is combining hip-hop rhymes with essential learning in a clever approach to prepare students for exams. Designed to raise student achievement on the Regents Exams, the content covers New York's core curriculum and draws from current research and best practices in student engagement, verbal memory and test preparation. The Fresh Prep curriculum includes strategies for building vocabulary, taking tests and writing essays through songs and activities, with competitive game-based components and workbooks containing pop culture references. The site currently features sections on English and global and U.S. history, with additional subjects, such as math, to come.

Ongoing walking tours of private gardens in some of the most prestigious estates in Newport, R.I., are being held to generate funds for children's arts and music instruction. Self-guided tours organized by Myra Duvally, president of Secret Garden Tours since 1984 are open to the public. Over the last 25 years, more than $1.25 million has benefited students who would have otherwise been unable to pursue their artistic or musical aspirations. The July tour took attendees to Newport's restored colonial section, and the upcoming Sept. 10–12 tour dates include visits to fall gardens on Newport mansion properties. Proceeds from Secret Garden Tours have provided students with dedicated computers for music-making, and the funds also subsidize after-school music programs, including the purchase of musical instruments.

(Laurel Fishman is a writer and editor specializing in entertainment media. She reports regularly for and GRAMMY magazine, and she is an advocate for the benefits of music making, music listening, music education, music therapy and music-and-the-brain research.)


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