Combating ‘sorry state’ of arts ed in Nevada

So you moved to Reno from Whereverland because of the Biggest Little City’s reputation as an art mecca. (No giggling, please.) Then you put your kids in the Nevada public school system. What horror. What disillusionment at the state of the arts education in the Silver State.

Yes, in Nevada, music programs survived a recent budget near-disaster. Art programs were not similarly endangered, for one simple reason: They barely exist. To have an art teacher in an elementary school is the exception, not the rule. In middle and high schools, art is an elective. In most counties, a child can pass through all 12 grades without taking a single art class, says Wendy Felling, arts and education program coordinator for the Nevada Arts Council.

And that shouldn’t be. A lack of attention to arts in schools can be harmful to kids who learn kinesthetically. It’s rotten for the arts itself, as those children are the future of both making and appreciating art. It’s cruddy for the community because states with slim public school pickings just aren’t attractive to business start-ups or companies looking to relocate.

That’s why integrating arts into public education is paramount to arts advocacy groups in Nevada. The Nevada Arts Council and the Nevada Alliance for Arts Education recently held meetings across the state. The one issue that came up at each meeting was the “sorry state of arts education” in Nevada, says Susan Boskoff, the Nevada Arts Council’s executive director.

The NAC gives out about $1 million in grants for arts education, teacher training and special projects in schools.

“We’ve been pretty involved in it,” Boskoff says. “It’s part of our strategic plan for 2004-2007.”

With that in mind, these arts groups are kicking off a campaign to spread the word about boosting arts education in Nevada.

“It’s really come to the forefront that we need to get to our school boards, legislators and governments in talking about the arts,” Boskoff says. “[Next year], when we have new people coming into office, they need to take a stand one way or the other—‘How do you feel about arts education in the schools?’ ”

The NAAE will hold an open house 5-7 p.m. Sept. 25 in the basement of the McKinley Park Arts & Culture Center. There’ll be snacks and educational materials, bumper stickers, kids and art. The group is launching a Web site,, to help point people to actions they can take to help the effort, to offer resources for teachers and to educate folks about just how important the arts are in education.

Why is art in the schools so darn important?

Felling recently attended a Las Vegas seminar for teachers who wanted to learn how to incorporate art into lesson plans.

“There is an entire [segment] of the student population that we’re missing with traditional forms of education,” Felling says. “Those diagnosed with [attention deficit hyperactive disorder] and kinesthetic learners are being set aside as hyperactive because they can’t sit still.”

That tag would apply to many artists working now, she said, including herself.

“I was one of those kids who couldn’t sit still until I discovered the arts,” she says. “Then I was finally tuned in to education, what was going on. … Some learn well by hearing, seeing, doing. What the arts does is it engages you at all those levels, through all of your senses. When it’s applied to other subject areas, it enhances learning in all areas.”

Teaching subjects like art and music is also a way to ensure that artists and musicians will have a future audience for their endeavors. Boskoff and others were concerned in the wake of last year’s defeated bond issue that would have enhanced art programs in the community.

“We’re missing generations who aren’t getting training and understanding,” she says. “They are the future audiences, patrons and artists. This is very critical for a state looking at economic diversity.”

Economic diversity?

Northern Nevada is gaining a bit of a reputation for its commitment to the arts.

“We have such a strong arts presence in our community that transplants from other states assume it [extends to public schools],” she says. “When they find out that they don’t get it here, they’re shocked and appalled.”