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Youth Art Month
Saint Patrick ‘s Day isn ‘t the only celebration that takes place in March. Since 1961, March has been deemed Youth Art Month as a way to showcase the talent and potential of student artists, express support for art educators and emphasize the importance of quality art programs in schools. It was developed by the Art and Creative Materials Institute (ACMI- a non-profit association of art and craft materials manufacturers) in cooperation with the National Art Education Association. The Council For Art Education, comprised of the ACMI, NAEA, various art materials distributors and the General Federation of Women ‘s Clubs, was founded in 1984. The CFAE functions as a national facilitator for Youth Art Month by sponsoring annual contests such as the “School Flags Across the U.S….Flying High” program. Students in participating states design a school flag. The winning designs are made into flags and presented in Washington DC where they are flown in prominence during the month of March. Since its inception, schools across the nation have celebrated Youth Art Month by spotlighting talent and bringing public attention to school arts programs.
The majority of schools host art shows and displays. Some extend into the community using store window display space, or public access areas for shows. Several schools here in California have included silent auctions of student work along with their exhibition as a way to raise money for the school art program. One innovative county in Loudon Virginia is hosting a variety of shows, displays, and interactive activities to promote and highlight their art programs. Their “Family Arts Night” includes art making activities for the whole family, karaoke, dance instruction, musical performances and live drama improvisations. The same county is also holding an innovative family dinner night which includes a hand thrown ceramic bowl with meal, created by a local potter or high school student.
Unfortunately my school and district have not acknowledged Youth Art Month. We are, in fact, watching in horror as our arts programs are cut, reduced or decimated by downsizing. Our budgets were eliminated two years ago. At my school in particular art is kept alive only to facilitate a dumping ground for kids who have no where else to go. As I look through my grade book I can see that there has been a thirty percent turnover in students between August and March- with more transition to come. It ‘s hard to maintain a viable, quality program when students are constantly leaving and entering the class. Even sadder is that the students that I teach readily accept such substandard practices and policies. The community demographics of my school include a very low socio-economic level population who are essentially non-english speaking. The families of my students aren ‘t savvy to the school district ‘s political manipulations and therefore don ‘t always voice their concern or displeasure regarding changes in their children ‘s education. The students have become resigned to using inferior materials or not having enough supplies. They never question why another school can produce work in clay, oils or metal while they are using paper mache and colored pencils. We can challenge students in their core classes with rigorous academic curricula, but in art, without the proper materials and supplies, there is a limit to the level of sophistication that can be achieved.
Maybe a component to Youth Art Month should be public awareness of the financial frailty of art programs in public education. Art educators can channel talent into wonderful end products using limited resources, and the public applauds the efforts and the results. What the public never sees, however, is the potential for what a child could do given smaller classes with better materials and more time. The ACMI is composed of industry giants such as Crayola, Eberhard Faber, Ticonderoga, Dick Blick, Chartpack and more. These manufacturers stand to benefit as long as art education is alive and well. Perhaps the ACMI can do more than sponsor a flag design contest each year. They can support our voice in Washington for funding for arts education. They can generate revenue by donating a percentage of their gross sales generated during March, Youth Art Month, back to the classrooms. As art educators we are indebted to them for being the first to dedicate an entire month to art education. But there is greater work to be done. And with their help we can continue to cultivate young artists and promote the growth of great art education programs.