Art Education in Action on the Street

Article excerpt

Showcasing the many forms and functions of art helps to articulate the fundamental importance of art education, whether it is to enhance the child or to support society. In many U.S. public schools, art education remains peripheral, and even in schools where it is offered, it is unlikely to get a fair share of program budget allocations. Increased public visibility and recognition is therefore vital for the continued survival of art education in the public school system; however, it is notable that advocacy for art education is usually carried out in an institutional venue such as classrooms, publications, or conferences targeting educational professionals, and not the general public.

In illuminating the importance of art education, educators can eloquently argue about its value and contributions through an institutional tunnel, or they can take art education literally out to the street to benefit people in the community and educate the students involved. Partnerships with local community organizations is essential if art education is to become part of a greater societal change, increase its social recognition, and promote its unique creative role in public schooling. As Ulbricht (2002a) points out, "To gain the support of community members, art educators need to present art education in terms that ordinary citizens can appreciate. Teachers need to show the public how art education benefits everyone in the community" (p. 8).

This article emphasizes the connection between classroom learning and community involvement and describes how we engaged art methods students as artist participants in Via Colori", a street painting fundraising event. Through our work in the University of Houston's Art Education Program, we maintain that getting students, including K- 12 levels, involved in community art events increases both the visibility and perceived value of art education in the public domain and possibly social recognition for art education, because it showcases practical contributions of art to the community. Community involvement serves as a catalyst for art educators to engage students in projects of possibility beyond the school walls, projects that offer them such a "real-world" learning opportunity as working directly and collaboratively with members of the community to solve community problems. These experiences can forge a sense of community while experiencing firsthand how art can really change people's lives.

Art Education in Communities

The word "community" in this article refers to "the local environment that exists outside classroom walls" (Marché, 1998, p. 7). Over the years, art education has taken part in varied forms of community learning and engagement. London (1994) encourages his students to utilize their school and surrounding neighborhood as a resource site for materials, issues, and motivations for art creation. Ulbricht (2002b) guides his students to study art and artists in local communities to gain personal insights into how art builds community capital. Further, Ulbricht (2005) defines various types of community-based art education such as outreach programs, service learning, public art sites, and ethnographic inquiry. And Bastos (2002) maintains that the value of community-based art education that is based on "encompassing a variety of art frameworks challenges narrowly defined categorizations, inspiring participatory visions of art and society" (p. 71).

Connecting classroom learning with community activities instills a sense of social awareness in students of any level, planting the seed for their active involvement within their own communities in the future. In art education, such links not only allow students to experience art as a form of cultural participation in real-world situations (i.e., those that involve interaction with members of the community), but also encourage art educators to utilize relevant resources as part of their authentic curriculum. Community involvement pushes school participants out of their institutionally confined comfort zone into interacting with the public to carry out a collaborative effort for greater social transformation. …