By Ellen Knickmeyer
The head of the National Endowment for the Arts gave Oklahoma a round of applause Tuesday for its performance in incorporating arts into public education.
"Oklahoma is ahead in a lot of ways in the arts," NEA Chairwoman Jane Alexander told a meeting of Oklahoma artists and educators.
"Having the arts as part of the curriculum is unusual at this time," Alexander said. "Having that as a mandate is way ahead of the game."
Oklahoma made arts education a mandatory part of the curriculum in 1990, when legislators adopted the education changes in House Bill 1017, state school Superintendent Sandy Garrett noted.
Alexander and conference participants cited Oklahoma teachers who already have put arts to work teaching _ from a history teacher who performs a Japanese tea ceremony with her students in the course of teaching Japanese culture, to a language class that uses drama to teach immigrant children English.
"Oklahoma should be very proud of its arts in the curriculum already," Alexander said.
An actress picked by President Clinton three months ago to head the NEA, Alexander is touring the country to promote the NEA and its mission.
She was trying to change the impression left by funding fights in the 1980s over the NEA's support of artists whose work offended some legislators and others, she said.
"Our message has been obscured by a handful of grants . . . that some people have found controversial and taken exception to," she said.
But NEA money is at work in every congressional district, funding artists in residence and other locally welcomed art programs, she said. …