Drawing on the Past for Insight and Direction: Ten Considerations in Legislative and Policy Development for Art Education

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In June 1869, a coalition of 12 individuals and two businesses presented the Massachusetts state legislature with a carefully crafted petition. This document called for lawmakers to take action in requesting that the State Board of Education develop a plan to initiate drawing instruction in Massachusetts public schools, or to establish educational institutions for teaching this subject of study in the larger municipalities of the state. The action of these 14 signatories appears to have been a first-of-its-kind lobbying effort by a special interest group directed toward a state legislature on behalf of visual arts education in the United States. Lawmakers responded quickly and positively to this petition, which led the following year to passage of the Massachusetts Drawing Act. This article is a discussion of 10 specific considerations drawn from studying the 1869 Massachusetts drawing education petition and its framers. Art educators are encouraged to examine and possibly employ these considerations in undertaking efforts to influence legislative processes and effect policy decisions that are pivotal to the current and future development of art education.

In early-June 1869, a coalition of 12 individuals and two businesses presented the Massachusetts state legislature with a carefully crafted petition. This document called for lawmakers to take action in requesting that the State Board of Education develop a plan to initiate drawing instruction in Massachusetts public schools, or to establish educational institutions for teaching this subject of study in the larger municipalities of the state. This petition read, as follows:

To the honorable General Court of the State of Massachusetts.

Your petitioners respectfully represent that every branch of manufactures in which the citizens of Massachusetts are engaged, requires, in the details of the processes connected with it, some knowledge of drawing and other arts of design on the part of the skilled workmen engaged.

At the present time no wide provision is made for instruction in drawing in the public schools.

Our manufacturers therefore compete under disadvantages with the manufacturers of Europe; for in all the manufacturing countries of Europe free provision is made for instructing workmen of all classes in drawing. At this time, almost all the best draughtsmen in our shops are men thus trained abroad.

In England, within the last ten years, very large additions have been made to the provisions, which were before very generous, for free public instruction of workmen in drawing. Your petitioners are assured that boys and girls, by the time they are sixteen years of age, acquire great proficiency in mechanical drawing and in other arts of design.

We are also assured that men and women who have been long engaged in the processes of manufacture, learn readily and with pleasure, enough of the arts of design to assist them materially in their work.

For such reasons we ask that the Board of Education may be directed to report, in detail, to the next general court, some definite plan for introducing schools for drawing, or instruction in drawing, free to all men, women and children, in all towns of the Commonwealth of more than five thousand inhabitants.

And your petitioners will ever pray.

JACOB BIGELOW.

J. THOS. STEVENSON.

WILLIAMA. BURKE.

JAMES LAWRENCE.

EDW. E. HALE.

THEODORE LYMAN.

JORDAN, MARSH & CO.

JOHN AMORY LOWELL.

E.B. BIGELOW.

FRANCIS C. LOWELL.

JOHN H. CLIFFORD.

WM. GRAY.

F.H. PEABODY.

A.A. LAWRENCE & CO.

BOSTON, June, 1869. (Thirty-fourth Annual Report, 1871, pp. 163-164)

The action of these 14 signatories appears to have been a first-of-itskind lobbying effort by a special interest group directed toward a state legislature on behalf of visual arts education in the United States. …

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