Arts Education: How We Value the Arts

Thursday June 1st, 2017

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 who 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 the following studies extensively as I have 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.


Magdalena Abakanowicz. WALKING FIGURES at Cambie and Broadway in Vancouver. 2014 - 2016 exhibition. students from Charles Tupper school. Photo by LAY TUAN TAN 0517

Walking Figures by Magdalena Abakanowicz.

Cambie Street at Broadway in Vancouver, Canada.


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, Art for Art’s 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 from Community Foundations of 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 everyday 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.


Michel Goulet. ECHOES. performance by Churchill students. Kitsilano Beach in Vancouver. Photo by Lay Tuan Tan. 0825LAYTUANTAN


Echoes by Michel Goulet.

Kitsilano Beach in Vancouver, Canada.


I have witnessed the hard work of a young dancer who aspires to be on the stage, and I know that his or her dream will only come about with practice and dedication. 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, and for the story it tells, as well as for its contribution to healthy communities. 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. (recent OECD study)





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