Some signs point to several benefits of arts education

The Durango Arts Center just closed “Open Art Surgery,” an epic installation of street art in the Barbara Conrad Gallery.

The show consisted of a whirlwind two weeks of creation, collaboration, celebration and, of course, the smell of aerosol paint. The Ground Up Arts Collective, a group of amazing, young artists from around the country, worked together seamlessly on the exhibit.

Watching this process reminded me of why I continue to make art, and why I absolutely love teaching it. Art contributes to the expansion of the psyche and the unlimited capacity of the human heart.

Did you know that arts education is recognized as one of the “core academic subjects” in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001? Unfortunately, NCLB focused so much on academic achievement and test-score strategies, the gift of recognizing core subjects has been lost. When funding shortages occur, core subjects are included in trimmed classes. Scientific research has exposed the importance of arts education in an attempt to continue financial and political support. The results of these studies are phenomenal. Let me share:

Neuroscience studies show that it can help the brain rewire itself and make more resilient and abundant neural connections.

Visual arts training has a correlation with the ability to do certain kinds of mathematical reasoning.

In kids, there appears to be specific links between the practice of music and skills in geometrical representation as well as being a central predictor of early literacy.

Phonological awareness is correlated with both music training and the development of a specific brain pathway.

Motivated arts students to develop attention skills and strategies for memory retrieval that also apply to other subject areas.

In older brains, research is showing how Alzheimer’s disease is affected by the study of arts and foreign languages.

Educational findings show evidence that arts education pushes the envelope in problem-solving, imagination and empathy.

Young people who participate in the arts are more likely to be recognized for academic achievement, participate in math and science fairs, youth groups, reading for pleasure, performing community service (not the court-ordered kind) and have an appreciation of other cultures.

Elementary students of the arts scored an average of 11 percentage points higher on tests than students at the same school who did not take part in the arts-education program.

Psychological findings about the value of arts education include the ability to help troubled youths by providing an alternative to destructive behavior and a way for students to approach learning through meaningful participation.

It has a measurable effect on lowering truancy and increasing overall academic performance. It helps students develop an appreciation and understanding of the world. Art builds bridges of understanding.

With summer quickly approaching, consider giving your kids or yourself some “arts experiences” that will be memorable and very possibly life -changing. DAC, Stillwater Foundation, Durango Dance, Katzin Music, the Clay Room, Smiley Studios and many other Durango venues offer a variety of arts opportunities. Feel free to call me if you would like more specific suggestions.

Sandra Butler is the education coordinator at the Durango Arts Center. Reach her at