NYC kids need the arts desperately: Wynton Marsalis says the city must not cut music, dance and visual art education

The coronavirus hit our city in a way that is unparalleled in the modern era.

The city’s cultural mainstays have rallied to create entire digital seasons practically overnight, adapting to entertain and nourish home-bound patrons. Some enterprising artists even improvise mobile concerts in cars to deliver joy one block at a time.

Now, as our fellow citizens protest another police killing of an unarmed black man, they continue to fill our avenues and parks with the uncontrollable eruptions of unruliness that attend all serious struggles for agency. Homemade signs and the regalia of resistance define the times as we paint our public space with color, poetry and splashes of spiritual shine on whatever moves or grooves.

This moment of crisis has put the life-affirming value of the arts into sharper focus. The very soul of our city and nation is at stake, and this passionate surging of expression is us proving our identity.

It would be a shame to miss the revolution because you don’t understand the language.
That’s why, even as New York City looks at one of the most punishing fiscal rounds in a generation, we must not cut arts education from the city budget.

Art has always been an indispensable tool of survival, teaching us about our history, helping us to process turmoil and grief, and delivering serious meaning with joy.
Arts education teaches us to understand different ways of thinking and feeling through the common languages of film, music and dance. Through art, we experience empathy for one another.

And yet, the city has already announced that it is considering cutting $15.5 million out of the mayor’s already too-thin $21.5 million budget for arts education services, more than 70%.

Identification with the struggle over education and identity shows up on posters all over the world, but it seems to disappear with clock-like precision when it’s time for corrective investment.

Now more than ever, we need education that nurtures judgment as well as mastery, ethics as well as analysis. We need learning that will enable students to interpret complexity, to adjust with grace, and to make sense of lives they could not possibly anticipate.

We need teaching that inspires students to understand those who are different from themselves, and that encourages constructive collaborations across all borders. Our children need to be prepared for a world that will require a global intelligence informed by timeless human wisdom. That wisdom is most easily identified and nurtured through the arts.

For all the lip service paid to social justice, cuts to the arts will not fall on the shoulders of resource-rich communities; their PTAs will quickly raise the difference. They will fall on the shoulders of the parents and students already hardest hit by the dual crises of COVID and of systemic racism.

They will fall on teachers who are seen as dispensable, and who are treated with an uncommon disrespect given the value of their profession.

Large and small organizations alike, crucial community-building institutions, have lost the ability to gather people until the fourth phase of reopening. City contracts could mean the difference between life and death for a whole ecosystem of community-based arts nonprofits.

Once they’re gone, a defining component of our city would be gone with them. It would be a crime of enormous proportions if budget cuts resulted in their absence precisely at the time they are most needed.

This is undeniably the toughest budget cycle in generations, but the weight must be intelligently distributed.

In the midst of all the cuts and pain, there must also be hope and hunger for a better, more elevated future. That means it’s time for another definition of “our kids” that includes those who are always left with a slogan and a nervous smile; it’s time to preserve arts education for us all.

Marsalis, a trumpeter and educator, is artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center.

by Wynton Marsalis
Source: New York Daily News

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