Arts Education: How We Value the Arts

Guest blog by Lucille Pacey, member of the Vancouver Biennale Board of Directors.




Why do we constantly have to justify the arts and arts education? Why do we make the argument that arts education improves math skills, enhances science grades and promotes literacy?


There are numerous studies that speak to the positive impact the arts have on children’s learning in key academic subjects. It has been demonstrated that young children who are at risk can turn their lives around with prolonged exposure to the arts and, with the mentorship of a responsible adult. We can also find references on how the arts are important in nurturing creativity and the development of critical thinking– all related to future innovative societies.  Employers are seeking individuals who are creative, individuals who can reframe issues and are adaptable to changing technology and work environments. To quote Franklin Roosevelt – we cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future. I have used these studies extensively as I argued for continued and/or increased financial and sustained support for arts education.


It has been demonstrated that children at the age of 5 are at the peak of their creative expression, using more than 80% of their creative capacity; if this is not nurtured and celebrated that figure will drop to less than 5% by the age of 12 (IBM study). The arts are key to maintaining the creative ability in the individual and in building community and social engagement.


For all children the arts allow a different way of understanding than the sciences and other academic subjects. Because they are an arena without right and wrong answers, they free students to explore and experiment. They are also a place to introspect and find personal meaning. (OECD Study, Arts for Arts Sake)


The mission of the Vancouver Biennale is  ‘to exhibit great art and use it as a catalyst for learning, community engagement and social action’.


A big vision that is worthy of support and one that can only help society as a whole. A recent vital signs study in Canada states that ‘77% of Canadians agree or strongly agree that arts experiences help people feel part of their local community. This is especially true for newcomers and people in minority –language communities’.  The arts can help in understanding and appreciating other cultures and different forms of expression; they can help build stronger community ties and safe places for assembly. There is a high priority placed on the arts to serve and support the social innovation agenda through emphasis on identified social needs.


But why do we feel the need to reflect the importance of the arts through other disciplines, other agendas and other issues? Why can’t we just enjoy the art and acknowledge that the arts are prevalent in every day life and in everything we do? We take the arts for granted – we appreciate the music we hear and even sometimes sing along – but we don’t pay attention to the effort that went into writing those lyrics, writing the score and then performing the work. This is not unique to music it is seen in all art disciplines  – dance, theater, visual art and design.


I have witnessed the hard work of a young dancer who aspires to be on the stage and I know that his/her dream will only come about with practice and dedication. So instead of focusing on using the arts to change the world, let’s put the emphasis on intensive and continuous arts training, and make the commitment to excellence.


Let us celebrate the art form for its beauty, the creative tension it sometimes suggests, for the story it tells as well as for its contribution to healthy communities. In a recent OECD study they posit, “arts are an essential part of a human heritage and of what makes us human, and it is difficult to imagine an education for better lives without arts education.







Children at the 217.5 Arc X 13 by Bernar Venet

Bernar Venet. 217.5 Arc x 13. Corten steel. Sunset Beach in Vancouver.

The Vancouver Biennale’s public artwork can pull us out of ourselves and provide a focal point that heightens our awareness of ourselves, space, time, and the outdoor setting in which it sits.


Dennis Oppenheim. Engagement. Glass, aluminum, and steel. Sunset Beach Park in Vancouver.

Every angle of the artwork causes us to look at the background setting from a fresh perspective which we have not previously seen. In that process our mind is refreshed, and the pride we feel for our city is inflated. I love this montage of Ai Weiwei’s artwork. Look at all the perspectives!

Ai Weiwei.F GRASS.HarbourGreenPark in Vancouver.montage.2014 - 2016 project.FullSizeRender (4)

Ai Weiwei. F Grass. Cast iron. Harbour Green Park (West Cordova Street and Bute Street) in Vancouver.

In my opinion, public artwork gives us a reason to stand in an exact physical location in nature, contemplating an art installation that invites us to dialogue with one another. What does it mean? What’s happening here?

Marcus Bowcott.TRANS AM TOTEM.Vancouver.Quebec Street.diptych.April 2015.Photos by Murray Nichol

Marcus Bowcott. Trans Am Totem. Scrap metal cars and a cedar tree. Quebec Street and Milross Avenue in Vancouver.

As I become more acquainted with the Vancouver Biennale’s public-art offerings, I am grateful for what these artists have created.  Their artworks raise our curiosity and, within minutes of our homes and offices, we are transported out of our busy routines.  Accessing these installations via a short walk or bicycle ride, we can leave our zany schedules behind and partake in some childlike fun.

LoveYourBeans17                LoveYourBeans12

Cosimo Cavallaro. Love Your Bean. Fibreglass resin. Charleson Park in Vancouver.

And I mustn’t forget this one! I continue to marvel at how these figures connect us to the city, to ourselves, and to each other.  This installation is undeniably one of the most touched, photographed, and imitated pieces of art in our city.  Visitors from around the world have told me that they simply had to visit the “laughing men”!

YueMinjun.A-MAZE-ING LAUGHTER.VancouverMortonPark.AmyFaulkner from Seattle.27Feb.2016.PhotoBarrieMowatt   Yue Minjun. A-MAZE-ING LAUGHTER. Mike Baldwin, Murray Nichol, Robert Dexter, Barrie Mowatt. Morton Park in Vancouver. Oct.2016

Yue Minjun. A-maze-ing Laughter. Patinated cast bronze. Morton Park (Denman Street and Davie Street) in Vancouver’s West End.

Hope to see you out and about exploring the #VanBiennale art!