As BSM focuses on academics, the arts become marginalized

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Megan Beh

In the push and pull between arts and academics, academics usually comes out on top.

Benilde-St. Margaret’s has a reputation for high achievements in academics, but with such a focus on schoolwork, the arts can often be brushed to the side. With the department being downsized next year due to budget cuts and art class enrollment shrinking, the question of whether or not BSM provides sufficient support for the arts has been raised.

When considering the variety of art classes offered currently, it may seem that BSM fosters an environment for the arts, but that is becoming less of a reality. Due to BSM’s academic culture as a college prep school, many students feel the pressure from both peers and family to take electives that are labeled as more valuable courses, such as science or language classes. “I don’t think that [BSM] fully pushes the art classes the same way that they push physics, ACS, or calculus; I don’t think BSM holds art in that same category,” art teacher Ms. Kristi Main said.

Some students feel a lack of support from both peers and administration in their interest in the arts, due to the commonly conceived idea that art isn’t beneficial to academic success. “I feel like BSM supports engineering and those kinds of courses––stereotypically the ‘smart kids’ classes, but art is kind of looked down upon because art careers typically don’t make as much money,” junior Jeremy Pastir, an avid drawer, said.

Pastir's passion for drawing has motivated him to prioritize art over math and science.
Pastir’s passion for drawing has motivated him to prioritize art over math and science.

For the upcoming school year, Pastir has decided that cutting math and science from his course of study in order to accommodate more art classes will be more beneficial to him in the future. “Looking at what I’m good at and what I want to go into, what on earth would learning about integrals in AP Calculus do for me?” Pastir said.

Because of this decision, Pastir is experiencing first hand the stress that BSM is places on classes deemed more acceptable for future success. “My parents completely supported my decision, which shows a lot since they both worked in the medical field, but most people were horrified. Generally I get the impression that if you’re a guy, you’re just expected to go into something math or physics related such as engineering or chemistry. If you’re a guy and want to go into writing, art, or film, everyone seems to act like you’re being a waste to society, especially going to a school like Benilde,” Pastir said.

In comparison to most academics, art isn’t seen as a necessary part of education or good college preparation. “Coming into BSM, I got the impression that art was important here. More recently, I’ve been feeling like art hasn’t been treated as a priority,” art teacher Ms. Leah Klister said.

Many people label art as unimportant and an unchallenging part of study. “I think that there’s a preconceived notion out there that you need to be artistic and then the notion that art is an easy A,” Ms. Main said.

It is because of such pressures to focus primarily on academic courses that some students who are truly dedicated to the arts transfer to art schools, such as Perpich Center for Arts Education. These students feel that BSM does not put enough focus on the arts and that it could no longer support their growing interests. “[At BSM], I just didn’t have enough room in my schedule to take all of the [classes] I wanted. Because I was being required to fill so much of my schedule with academics, I had to choose between art and academics,” Perpich junior and former BSM student Alexa Dietz said.

With the new opportunities offered at Perpich, Dietz has been able to gain a better understanding of the ways in which she can apply her artistic abilities after high school and college. “I didn’t even realize I wanted to [go to college for art] until I left. Right now, I’m looking into graphic design because there’s a huge and steadily growing industry for it. I also took a graphic design class as a part of my foundations curriculum at Perpich, which really sparked an interest for hand done techniques,” Dietz said.

Art class enrollment has been dropping rapidly the past few years. The statistics are staggering. Five years ago, in the 2007-2008 school year, there were 847 students, grades 7-12, enrolled in visual arts classes. That number dropped to 640 for this past school year, and the number for students enrolled in visual arts classes so far for the 2013-2014 school year at an all time low of 562 students. “I think unless there is a change in perception of the art department and how important it is, it’s going to drastically shrink or get smaller,” Ms. Main said.

Many believe that the innovation of wellness hour has played a role in this drop. “A lot of students used to take art; it was their down-time or stress reliever, but when the wellness program was introduced that time was built into their schedules and enrollment drastically dropped,” Ms. Main said.

Wellness has taken over the place of art education, as there are artistic options for Wellness classes offered, such as Fiber Arts. “That might go to show that BSM doesn’t foster an environment for art, if the wellness is so easily able take over art classes,” Ms. Klister said.

As a result of the decline in enrollment, Silkscreen courses are being cut from the art program, no longer being available to students the upcoming school year. However, in the hopes of sparking students’ interests in art, new courses, such as graphic design, are being introduced to the curriculum.

Along with the silkscreen course being cut and fewer art classes being offered during the school day, there will no longer be a fall musical due to budget cuts made this past spring. “The production rights to a musical are very expensive. It’s also usually very expensive to hire a staff like musicians and a choreographer,” director of vocal music and concert choir Mrs. Nancy Stockhaus said.

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Sophomore Maddy Rockhold has found solace in photography.

With the negative perceptions and attitudes towards the arts, many are unaware of the countless benefits of art education. Art improves one’s sensory awareness and manual agility, as well as communication and problem-solving skills. Art allows students to develop their imagination and creative knowledge. “Art exercises the other half of your brain; it teaches us not to take everything so scientifically,” sophomore Maddy Rockhold, a photography student said.

Participation in the arts has been proven to help students do better in school and standardized testing. Studies have shown that students who are involved in art education are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement. In countries that consistently rank among the highest for science and math test scores, such as Hungary, the Netherlands, and Japan, music and art education are mandatory parts of curriculum, unlike the majority of education systems in the U.S., where the arts are typically not required of students.

In addition to improving academic success, art plays a crucial role in cultural understanding. The involvement of art curriculum allows students to gain intellectual insights into culture. “I think it’s sad and a mistake to cut the arts from schools. Creative education is just as important as any other area of learning, if not more important. Without creativity we would not progress as a group of people and I think our lives would be significantly duller,” junior Felicia Ceurvorst, a former student at BSM who transferred to Perpich Center for Arts Education, said.

Art and music classes also provide a creative outlet for students, giving them the opportunity to set aside the stress and rigor of other classes, and express their individuality through a variety of artistic mediums. “Art is a form of expression. I use art as a calming place; it’s less stressful for me,” sophomore Meghan Ortizcazarin, a photography student said.

Art curriculum has suffered greatly from the academically competitive culture at BSM and pressure on students to focus solely on core classes. Teachers and students believe that a major change needs to come to the curriculum if BSM wants it’s art department to continue to be the source of inspiration and creative ground it has been known for. “If something doesn’t change drastically, our art department will dwindle majorly,” Ms. Main said.