To Be or Not To Be: Schools’ Underfunded Arts Programs

Lucy Birtwistle, Graphic Design

When money’s tight, many schools look to the arts department as the first area to fall victim to budget cuts.

Schools. We all have them, we all attend them. When you think of school, your mind might quickly go to subjects such as math, science, history, English, so on. What about arts classes–painting, drawing, music, theater? Well, if you didn’t associate art with school, you wouldn’t be the first to do so, as schools’ art budgets are being cut, underfunded, and taken away altogether due to falsely being labeled as unimportant in school. This is despite numerous statistics that have shown art to be correlated to increased literacy abilities, attendance & graduation rates, test scores, and more.

By the end of 2019, an estimated 25% of public schools will have completely eliminated their arts departments due to lack of funding.

More About the Problem

Schools don’t have endless supplies of money. Hence, they need to make changes and cuts where/when it’s necessary. However, budget limiations are often extreme enough to elicit the removal of a significant portion of a school’s art department, which is problematic for a variety of reasons, including (but not limited to) the following:

  • Loss of teaching positions for arts teachers. Following their decision to close many of their schools, the public schools of Chicago laid off around 1000+ teachers a few years ago, around 10 percent of which were from the arts education departments (more than any other sector).
  • Elimination of the classes that many students find the most interesting, thus potentially decreasing school-derived enjoyment for the students and worsening the school experience. About this, a principal in North Carolina said that “You can’t just offer (especially at the high school) math, science, social studies and reading. What that does is cut out the courses that students can be interested in. The elective courses are what keep the students in school.”
  • Lack of benefits that come with arts classes. Countless studies have been performed and have all reached a similar conclusion: students benefit in other areas as a result of art education. Art is shown to “help rewire the brain in positive ways” and “raise achievement levels” and “help connect students to the larger world” and so on.

In My Community

Though my school is a fairly well-funded private school that reaches many affluent families and communities, the arts department is lacking much like any other school. The school is Pre-K through 12th grade, but especially with the development of the newer high school division and all of its programs, the arts were definitely neglected, especially in relation to other areas of the school.


I interviewed a parent volunteer in the arts sector of my school’s elementary division to get a firsthand perspective on the subject.

Can you give a brief overview of what you do, in your own words?

I run the lower school musical theater program as a parent volunteer for Nueva (my school).

Why did you choose to help run this program?

I have children and friends of my children who love theater and there was previously no program at the lower school so I worked with the administration to find a theater company who we could contract with to create a musical theater after school program for the elementary school.

What were some of the struggles you faced while running the program?

There was no staff member at Nueva who was responsible for making sure theater was a success so I had to essentially beg for the after school coordinator to give me a little time so we could set up the program. Additionally, some of the kids could not afford the cost of the musical and because there was no official funding from the school (hence the kids were required to pay a fee so we could pay the external theater company), some of these kids simply could not participate, which was frankly upsetting and unjust.

How do you think theater benefits the students?

In terms of musical theater specifically, theater is an activity that many young children (and children in general) enjoy and it gives them a great opportunity to practice performing in public. It’s also a bonding experience for the students and a great after-school activity for kids whose parents work. 

More generally speaking, what do you think the benefit is of engaging in some sort of art-related activity, especially in cohesion with school?

I believe there are many benefits of art in schools. Firstly, it provides a different kind of creative outlet for kids to expand their horizons. Not all kids love sports or academics so it provides an alternative opportunity for kids to thrive and discover their interests & talents. Many kids also might not otherwise be able to discover certain areas of interest due to lack of exposure to the arts. Also, generally, I think art is a great practice for the mind, body, and soul!

Students dance around in a number from the school’s musical theater production.

The musical they put on was Guys and Dolls, and they had a cast of about 50 kids.

About the production, one 5th grader stated that “it’s always the highlight of my year! It’s so much fun and I love singing and dancing!”

Design Components: We Heart Art

In order to promote change related to this issue and spread awareness, I wanted to focus on the more positive aspect involved with celebrating art (rather than reprimanding schools). To do so, I wanted to create some sort of logo that would represent this as well as designs for something like pins that could be worn to raise awareness. I also wanted this logo to be able to serve as the icon for some sort of related social media campaign.

Ideation Process


Final Designs

Students at my school showing support by wearing the pin

Poll: Your opinion

Take the poll below to contribute your personal thoughts based on your experiences in your school’s arts department.

Do you feel that there’s a lack of recognition and/or funding for the arts in your school?
Yes- I’m somehow involved in the arts at my school and feel that the arts are neglected in some way
Yes- I’m not involved in the arts at my school and feel that the arts are neglected in some way
No- I’m somehow involved in the arts at my school and feel that the arts are not neglected
No- I’m not involved in the arts at my school and feel that the arts are not neglected
Created with QuizMaker

Works Cited

https://www.americansforthearts. org/by-program/reports-and-data/legislation-policy/legislative-issue-center/arts-education-policy-and-funding



https:/// entry/funding-for-arts-education-is-vital-for-students_b_5900a58fe4b06feec8ac9237

http:/// pundits-blog/education/323655-cuts-to-arts-funding-could-be-detrimental-to-academic /pages/why

Share this project
  1. April 28, 2019 by Joanna Tutinji

    lucy this is a great project thank you so much for sharing this !

  2. May 01, 2019 by Ava.Vander Louw

    I really appreciate your hard work on this project! It is clear that you are very passionate and have spent a lot of time on this presentation. I love the pins! I completely agree with you that Art classes make school a happier place and need to be sufficiently funded in all schools. Well done!

  3. May 04, 2019 by Alyssa.Chang

    Hi Lucy! I enjoyed your presentation. I personally do love art and think everyone can learn so much from it. Art helps many people to reduce stress, and express inner thoughts. Therefore, I completely agree with you! I think all schools should fund art programs as much as they fund other clubs/classes.

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