On "Equity and Cultural Access in Arts Education" - A Response to Michael Greene

February 28, 1994

In a most articulate and stimulating address, Michael Greene, President of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, challenged the members of The College Music Society to adopt pro-active positions that could halt our nation's artistic and cultural decline. His message was compelling.

He cited statistics showing that per capita governmentalsupport for the arts is 33 times as much in Japan as it is in the United States, and 16 times as much in Germany as it is here. Claiming that the privatization of support for the arts is leading to the elimination of funding in difficult economic times, he pointed out that misappropriation of funding resources has cut off school music programs so that, within the last eight years, the number of school bands, orchestras, and ensembles has declined by 50%. There is only one music teacher for 1500 students in Los Angeles schools, and only 4% of the students are involved in music. At a time when society is divided into several warring camps, he points out that a lack of public support makes the study of music an elitist privilege that will further divide, not heal, society.

The problem, as he stated it, is deeper than a debate over funding sources it is a national erosion of artistic (thus cultural) values brought about by an abdication of leadership on the part of educators who are "impotent ambassadors on behalf of the arts." Beyond this, a confusion has been created by what, in recent years, has emerged as a conflict between the canons of traditional Eurocentricity and the diversity of Multiculturalism. The solution to this conflict will come through education as we succeed in learning to remain open to other cultures and art forms, avoiding an arbitrary division between high and low art.

For an entire generation of children, the main source for musical knowledge is MTV. Commercial radio also "educates" by providing the mediocrity of the lowest common denominator. Thus, K-12 music education is under siege by manipulation, as musical taste for these young people is the product of the marketplace, not the educational institution.

Mr. Greene spoke with pride about recent educational initiatives on the part of the Recording Academy. These include the organization of a Coalition for Music Education, Grammy programs, and a program of grants and scholarships. He cited NARAS's activity in preserving the oral history of the United States in musical artifacts and recordings, and the Academy's active advocacy role in enthusing young people about the value of playing music and the importance of being a fertile audience. The important educational goal is to teach that the United States is the environment in which cultures and artistic genres can truly converge.

Mr. Greene recommends that arts educators become indignant with those who are cutting funding we need to sell the virtue of the importance of the arts in shaping the lives of our young people. We need to make the case for the arts to our corporations, to our elected officials, and to our school boards. Artists, musicians, parents, and citizens must clamor for the restoration of the arts to their properly supported place in education and thus in society. The alternative, which stares at us now, places the arts as "an elitist legacy for the enrichment of a few."

This keynote address has placed a most important challenge on the agenda of The College Music Society a challenge that we must not ignore. We must become involved as an influential advocacy group within the Coalition for Music Education. The challenge we have is broader than a mere struggle for funding it is an urgent call for expanded multicultural awareness coupled with a profoundly significant struggle for cultural survival.

1894 Last modified on May 7, 2013
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