The Arts Matter
The Arts MatterCrystal Barrick, Assistant Director, Communications
On Monday, May 16, College Board President and CEO David Coleman addressed more than 180 arts educators at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City. As participants in the NYC Department of Education’s Arts Matter initiative, these public school principals, teachers, and coordinators build robust arts programs in historically under-served schools throughout the city.
Coleman opened his remarks with the words of legendary dancer and choreographer Martha Graham. “I believe that we learn by practice,” Coleman said, invoking Graham’s “This I Believe” essay, and described how artists endure difficult, focused, sometimes even painful practice to make great work. They get frustrated, they fail. They iterate often. They revise over and over again. And yet through these efforts, they find beauty, grace, and meaning.
“But what does this activity of the soul have to do with the College Board?” Coleman asked.
The College Board’s commitment to arts reverberates through its Advanced Placement arts programs. In 2015, more than 80,000 students took AP art exams, in subjects ranging from art history to studio art to music theory. And it was the community of educators around these students, said Coleman, that enabled them to excel — giving them space to express themselves, to make and revise work, to practice, to assemble strong portfolios.
“There is only one force that has changed student performance at scale in this country, and that is a great teacher,” Coleman declared. “The only technology we know that can really help our students grow is teachers like you.”
But, he admitted, the College Board has to do more. It is simply not enough to offer AP arts courses — we must also provide equal access to the tools that make high-quality arts instruction and learning possible. “We must make the tools of practice free,” he said.
To this end, Coleman was pleased to share information about the College Board’s collaboration with Smarthistory, an online multimedia resource for the study of art and cultural heritage. As of this year, Smarthistory has more than 200 vetted contributors (art historians, archeologists, curators, and academics) and features more than 1,500 essays and videos. This content is freely available to a global audience, and it delves into nearly all of the works covered in the AP Art History course.
In addition, the College Board celebrated the arts during the second annual Atlantic & College Board Writing Prize. This year’s contest asked high school students to submit essays that insightfully analyzed and interpreted a work of art that made an impression on them. Over 2,000 students from 43 countries submitted essays on more than 700 paintings, sculptures, and drawings. The award-winning essays, Coleman said, highlighted both the power and the importance of students being able to express their understanding of artistic works through writing.
“For students to be recognized for their work in the arts,” he said, “they must be able to write about them.” By coupling arts instruction and writing instruction, arts teachers best position their students to thoughtfully engage with — and show their aptitude in — the arts.
To close his keynote, Coleman made one point clear: “There’s no doubt arts education is important and beneficial for college and career readiness. The College Board speaks to schools all across the country to make sure the arts have their rightful place. But I think we as educators have to pause. We need to confess and declare that education is not just about preparing for college and careers. It is a soul craft.”
Addressing the arts teachers present, he continued: “The work you do every day with your students surpasses the values of this earth — it moves into deep questions about how fully students live their lives and how fully they can express their deepest experiences. At the College Board we believe those values are essential, they are worth investing in, and they are deeply valuable to students’ futures — inside and outside the classroom.”