Art Education 101

by Gayle Gatchalian/AJPress
Art should grow with you,” declares Mark Slavkin, VP for Education at the Music Center – Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County. He heads the education programs offered by the Music Center that reach about 300 schools yearly. Pushing to bring art to the fore of general education, the music center programs are an integral part of restoring the arts to the core curriculum of schools in Los Angeles County.
Music Center programs focus on three main areas of education: to strengthen arts education in their partner schools, provide leadership to advance the field of arts education and engage children, youth and families at the Music Center. Ultimately, they aim to instill a sense of belongingness in the arts, in the hearts of the young. By making it fun and free, thereby accessible, they hope to plant the seeds of a relationship with the arts that will grow as the child grows.

“We design, create and sustain the programs, but we do not make it for the schools.” The music center provides training, consultation, awards, festivals and various other services the schools can use and build on to bring arts into the school-wide curriculum. These building blocks can make art education a standard for all students, replacing random luck of time and place with a widely and equally available program, “What makes us happiest is when the schools invest resources and make arts a part of their instructional program.”

Why should people care about bringing the arts into the classroom?  “All of the arts- music, theater, dance and visual, are an enormous part of the human civilization,” answers a passionate Slavkin. “We communicate through these media and have done so since the first cave man drew a wall… there is no way we would have known about it had it not been for art. Dance and music can evoke emotion no words can express. We believe a person illiterate of the arts is missing out on an essential part of the human experience.”

The arts are also empowering to the individual, providing a platform to learn skills and discipline. Being involved in the arts means gaining communication skills, ways to express oneself in innovative and creative ways. “Some people believe that twice a year of art is enough for the students. It’s not. The world we live in today is calling for people who look at the world creatively. Memorization doesn’t get you that.”

Music Center programs are readily available to those schools that wish use their services. Because there is a fee, the initial investment must come from the school or the parents, however once this first step is taken, the whole wide world opens.

“Even just a bit of context or prior knowledge goes a long way. Take something like opera. 9 out of 10 people on the street wouldn’t care for it, mostly because they don’t or never had the chance to access it. If we don’t give kids access, they’ll say ‘no, I don’t know it, I don’t like it.’ That’s why our crusade is to take arts out of the margins and into the mainstream of primary and secondary education all over LA County.”

The Center also has programs for adults. Called Active Arts, these are oriented towards engaging those 18+, to spark or reignite the arts in their life by allowing them to be part of the art, not just a spectator. Programs like Sing Along where anyone can come up and sing Broadway showtunes on the Music Center Plaza and be among professionals and peers. Have fun and perform. People love it because they’re given the chance to participate in an event mandated by a premier cultural institution, an enterprise traditionally closed to amateurs.

Despite having an educational background in politics and governance (Mark Slavkin has graduate and undergraduate degrees in Political Science from USC), a serendipitous job with the Getty Trust moved him to the cause of art education, and has been doing it for the Music Center for 7 years. What keeps him going? “It’s joyful work, fulfilling.” He recounts a recent event he attended at the Canyon School in Santa Monica. Artist Olivier Tarpaga from West Africa came and talked to kindergartners about where he came from and the drum he brought for them to play. He then told the children to act out and animal and freeze when the drum stops. “To see these little kids crawl around saying ‘I’m a lion’ or ‘I’m a tiger’ and taking it real seriously is just,” Slavkin stops, searching for words. “It’s the intrinsic power of the arts.”


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