Art compliments academic learning by inspiring creativity

Michael Gaines wears comfortable shoes at work for a reason. He’s always on the move.
Gaines, executive director of the Missouri Association of Community Arts Agencies, as well as executive director of the Hannibal Arts Council, lives the arts.
At any given time he may be hanging an exhibit of middle school artwork, selling tickets for a classical music concert, hosting an arts reception or playing the piano for midweek arts luncheon.
While promoting every art venue, from dance, music, theatre, media arts, literature, design and visual arts, his focal point is involving children in the arts. As member of the marching band in high school, he still gives credit to this early arts education for his success in both statewide arts administration and the performing arts.
Arts education compliments academic learning by inspiring creativity in children and bolstering their problem solving skills. The study of the arts contributes to a well-balanced education and inspires critical thinking, a skill children need in order to be competitive in a global economy.
To validate this theory, Missouri Alliance for Arts Education undertook a three-year study, measuring the relationship between arts in public schools and overall student achievement.
Data from 514 Missouri school districts was analyzed, confirming that participation in fine arts courses at school correlates with higher student success.
In Missouri Assessment Program testing, the higher the number of students in grades 6-8 enrolled in the fine arts classes, the higher percentage of students in these grades who scored at the proficient or advanced levels on the Math MAP, the higher the average Math MAP scale score, and the higher the median Math MAP score.
“On the music side of the brain, you are using math,” Gaines said. “In a 4-4 time signature, you have to figure out in your head what a 16th note is in a measure.”
The left side of the brain – analytical – governs subjects such as science and math. Properly trained, the right side of the brain – creativity – compliments the left side. By incorporating arts into education, “we learn to expand the working power of our brain,” Gaines said.
“The right side of the brain sees what’s possible,” Gaines said. “Right brain thinkers create. They will solve the world’s problems. They look at situations and come up with not one, but many solutions. They are not afraid to question all the possibilities.”
The study on arts in education also showed a 3.3 percent difference in the graduation rates of districts with lower levels of arts participation (87.9 percent) compared to those with the highest levels (91.2 percent.) The statewide graduation rate in 2009 was 85 percent. An increase to 91.2 percent would mean an additional 6,539 graduates. More high school graduates could increase state revenues through increased employment rates and higher wages.
“Students who participate in group fine arts offerings such as marching band and concert choir learn to work in a group dynamic – play nice with others - which translates to real life problem solving,” Gaines said. “By following directions from a director, you are learning to take directions, a life skill.”
While a goal of the MAAE is to have the State Board of Education define the arts as a core subject in Missouri schools, it is fundamentally up to individual school districts to place a value on arts education.
"Quite frankly, you don't do anything in life without communicating," said Mexico High School speech theatre director Sara Given, on the benefits of art education. She believes that the arts can prepare students for the social and professional world, outside of the classroom.
Given said art students are able to apply, interpret and adapt to new information.
"It increases creative thinking and forces students to use higher level learning, not just in school, but in the workplace," she said.
Given and other Mexico art teachers strive to use arts education to empower students to have more self-confidence.
"It doesn't matter about your level of learning, if you are involved in the arts, you will find success, because success is based on individual growth," she said.
Several Mexico teachers have watched students go off to study art, choir, band, theatre, communications in college and Given has had several students who became teachers themselves.
Whether arts education remains a major part programs at public schools is unclear. Efforts toward that start with the parents communicating their wishes to the local school board. Once the community’s wishes are understood, arts education can thrive.
“Through the arts, we learn to expand the working power of our brain,” Gaines said.
Allen Fennewald contributed to this story