There is an abundance of research showing how visual art, writing, music, dance and other forms of creative expression promote physical and psychological wellness, especially in school-age children.
The impact of the recent pandemic extends far beyond a virus. As a result of going months without seeing friends and being isolated from important social connections and structured learning environments, the mental health and well-being of Oklahoma’s school children suffered.
According to a study published last fall in the Elsevier Public Health Emergency Collection, the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in children and adolescents experiencing higher rates of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress. Oklahoma lawmakers and state agencies must use all tools at their disposal to address this growing mental health pandemic. Of these tools, the arts are proven to be one of the most effective.
As our state government leaders consider the significance of funding for the arts, we urge them to consider two points.
Before COVID-19, it was well-known and accepted that a curriculum that includes the fine arts plays a critical role in providing our students a well-rounded education. The federal Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 recognized this and made school arts and music programs eligible for Title I funds. There was also increasing realization that arts education is essential to developing creative and critical thinkers, vital if Oklahoma is to diversify its economy and become a Top Ten state. Business and community leaders echo this thought.
Second, COVID-19 made it crystal clear that the virus brought illness and deaths to many of our loved ones. The pandemic also left the residue of significant mental health issues with our children. The arts can play a role in in addressing this challenge.
For example, in January, research published in Frontiers in Psychology asserts that practicing dance choreography can lead to lower levels of stress and anxiety. As students begin to return full time to their classrooms, they bring with them the emotional burdens of the past year. It is imperative that our schools be prepared and equipped with the arts as tools to help our children rebound and thrive.
As the chair of the citizen-led, governor-appointed board of the Oklahoma Arts Council, the state agency that leads the development of the arts in our state, I have seen the excellent work the agency has done towards its arts education-related mission. While the Oklahoma Arts Council will continue to provide leadership, the banner of arts education cannot be successfully carried by only a few.
We need your help.
We are asking all parents, grandparents, educators, school administrators, school boards, civic leaders and others to call their lawmakers and ask them to dedicate full funding and supportive policies that prioritize arts education in Oklahoma schools.
There is not a moment to lose. Funding for the arts will help prepare our citizens with the creative capabilities required to meet 21st century challenges and fully recapture the mental and emotional well-being of our children.
Darlene Parman has served on the Oklahoma Arts Council board since 2016 and currently leads the Council as its Chair.
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