Arts Advocates Are Left Behind Online


by Janet Eilber

October, 2008

The Web and other new media formats offer such an array of content that we are able to sample only a small fraction of what’s available. I have trouble finding time to read all the things I must read, let alone trying to keep up with the blogs.

However, in my daily fly-by of www.artsjournal.com, which contains clipped thumbnails of arts-related articles from around the world, I have slowly been reeled in by the blog Dewey21C, located at www.artsjournal.com/dewey21c.

Along with its daily rundown of the day’s news in all the arts, Arts Journal has hosted blogs by well-known critics and culture mavens for years. Their posts take on current events, issues and everything from what was onstage last night to the latest gossip in the opera or museum world. But similar ruminations on learning in the arts have been missing.

Last July, the label “arts education” appeared on the site’s sidebar. This led me to blog entries that were not only concise and accessible but intriguing. I even found myself following the embedded hyperlinks to further reading. When the blogger nonchalantly posted his “10 Most Powerful People in K–12 Arts Education” and sent arts education cognoscenti into a tizzy, I was hooked.

The author is Richard Kessler, executive director of the Center for Arts Education (CAE) in New York City. However, he tells me he does not write the blog in his role with CAE.

“Not that I’d write anything that would embarrass the Center, but I wanted to provide a space on www.artsjournal.com that would be personal—an individual voice raising issues for arts educators and the students they are working for,” he says.

Kessler’s posts so far have ranged from profiles of organizations he feels are doing notable work to samples of advocacy materials, discussion of how the presidential candidates’ education platforms might impact arts education, and even a remembrance of an influential colleague. Topics that may seem outside the realm of arts education are included, such as youth development, public engagement or a recent post that explores applying workplace merit assessment to education.

He’s more and more aware of how impossible it is to isolate arts education from these other concerns. “Arts education is such a kaleidoscope,” he told me, “I want to be able to talk about it all.”

At the moment, Kessler will have to talk about it all, because it seems no one else is.

In a field that has so much momentum, why aren’t there more blogs offering on-the-cusp thinking in arts education?

I spent several hours on the Web, looking for competition to Dewey21C and trying to track down other blogs on arts education. Google gave me a handful of possible links, most of which didn’t pan out. I searched many of the top arts education Web sites and followed the links to resources they recommended. A few discussion boards turned up, along with a couple of things titled “arts education blogs” that were occasional postings of links to articles or current events. No original thinking or stimulating discussions could be found. A search for “arts integration blog” inexplicably led me to a site selling kitchen appliances.

But then I tried “education blogs” and hit the mother lode. A survey of the 100 top education blogs revealed musings on dozens of specific niches, from surviving the first year of teaching to tackling issues for principals to teaching special education on an American Indian reservation. Digging through a few of the blogs that I thought might touch on arts education—such as blogs on working with gifted/talented students, or how to motivate students, even one on creativity—did not unearth one mention of arts education. I might as well have stayed on the kitchenware site.

It strikes me that more productive online exchanges could jumpstart and deepen our engagement with the topics and the way we approach our own piece of the arts education puzzle. They could move the field forward. Arts advocates eager for new ways to raise awareness should take advantage of this productive new communications tool.

And if arts education is embedded in larger education topics, why aren’t we participating in those blogs? A growing audience is connecting to the education blogs, but it is not hearing the arguments for how the arts can impact learning, special education, testing, motivation, creativity, gifted/talented students, issues for principals and almost every other niche covered in the education blogs. Those of us eager to find new ways to secure arts learning in the schools should take note.

For those of you that have discovered (or contribute to) other commendable arts education blogs, send me a note at jeilber@dana.org. We’ll let our readers know about it.