It comes as no surprise that schools in ‘underserved’ populations have little, if any, access to arts education. What is unacceptable and may come as a shock: Access to arts education for Black and Hispanic students has been on a steady decline for three decades. Three. Decades.

Even in the most successful points of our nation’s educational history in recent years, Black and Hispanic students were given a fraction of the arts opportunities afforded to White students. A recent study published by Americans for the Arts tracks access to arts education over a span of nearly thirty years, and the results are gut-wrenching.

In 1982, around 60% of White students had received arts education in their childhood. That number stayed incredibly consistent for thirty years, only ever deviating by a few percentage points. To put it bluntly: the majority of White students have historically had access to arts education, and that’s not changing any time soon.

On the other hand, in 1982, around 50% of Black and Hispanic students had received an arts education in childhood. Over the span of thirty years, we’ve seen those numbers come crashing down significantly. As of 2008, the numbers are dismal: 28% of Black students, and 26% of Hispanic students, have received arts education. To view it on a graph, arts education for White students is a tall, steady mountain in the background, with two rapidly shrinking foothills standing in the foreground. It is shameful.

See it for yourself HERE.

Acknowledging that the situation is bad is the first step. Acknowledging that things have been rapidly and steadily getting worse in a way that is measurably inequitable – that is the next step, and our call to action.

The thing about ‘underserved’ populations (read: low socio-economic status, mostly students of color) is that by labeling them as such, there is a quiet assumption that the success of these students is dependent upon what they are ‘served’ in an educational setting. This is true from a standpoint of tangible resources, however, arts education has proven time and time again that it teaches students the skills they need to serve themselves, both as successful students and well into adulthood.

When those who are supposed to be serving you (read:  providing you equitable access to arts education and opportunities, no matter the socio-economic status of your school district or the color of your skin) do not have your best interests in mind, the only option is to advocate for yourself. Right? But what about those populations who are ‘served’ quite adequately, and have been adequately served at a consistent rate for the past thirty years?

My call to action is not on underserved populations to begin speaking up and serving themselves. That tired, blame-filled narrative has deep roots in institutionalized racism, and places no accountability on the larger population that benefits from our public education system.

My call to action is loudly directed at anyone who sees this data and cares. Anyone who reads the news daily and sees how the deep-seated inequities in our educational system, stay with our students and fester into adulthood. Anyone who sees data from this study, and is appalled enough to do something about it – if your school is underserved, and ESPECIALLY if it is well-served. Is that you?

It is? Great! What can you do? Our Advocacy Toolkits provide tangible steps you can take toward effecting change in your school. Not enough access to arts education in your school? Speak up. Plenty of access to arts education in your school, but you’re now aware that other schools don’t have the same access? Speak up.

We all have the power to serve ourselves. The first step is to care. Now, we turn it into action.