Art is a Valuable Subject

“Art Empowers” is the title of an inspiring new student exhibition at the de Saisset Museum at Santa Clara University. I participated in handing out achievement certificates to more than 75 students enrolled in the ArtsConnect program of the Arts Council Silicon Valley (ACSV). The work was created in conjunction with local artists, and includes video, music, sculptures, poems and paintings. This is the 11th year of the student exhibition.

If you agree with the assertion in the exhibition title, you must be moved to support the Arts Council Silicon Valley like never before. ACSV could be a budget cut line item away from having a major portion of its funding cut by the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. However, there is considerable hope that at the Supervisors’ Budget Workshops this week the funding will be restored.

It was strikingly evident on the faces of students from the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Blue Ridge High School at James Ranch, Advent Girls School, Terra Bella Academy and the dozens of students from community schools, that the art they created, whatever the medium, was transcendent in each of their lives. The pride in their faces told part of a complex story. Unfortunately, the students locked up at Osborne School at Juvenile Hall were absent from the reception.

Thanks in large measure to the collaboration with de Saisset Museum and its Director, Rebecca Schapp, more than 75 students enrolled in Alternative Education Programs have their artwork displayed at the museum until June 28. Other funding organizations that contribute to the ArtsConnect program include Citibank, Heritage Bank of Commerce, Morgan Family Foundation, QUALCOMM, Rotary Club of San Jose, and Target Corporation.

It is indisputable that the essential goal of public education is to provide a vehicle for the academic achievement of ALL students. However, one component of a quality public school education that continues to be pummeled by our growing efforts to increase fill in the bubble test scores is the arts.

A world-class education system that prepares students to excel as citizens must teach all students a vibrant and dynamic visual and performing arts curriculum. Art should never be at the expense of an outstanding reading, writing and arithmetic curriculum, but it must be integral to the whole public school experience for every child.

Americans for the Arts (James S. Caterall, Ph.D. and the UCLA Imagination Project), in their National Arts Education Public Awareness Campaign, affirm that the arts:

• teach kids to be more tolerant and open;
• allow kids to express themselves creatively;
• promote individuality, bolster self-confidence; and
• improve overall academic achievement.

Caterall’s landmark study, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education, demonstrated a strong correlation between involvement in the arts and higher academic performance and increased standardized test scores. As a personal testament, my nearly 20 years as an elementary and middle school principal validates these findings. Therefore, I wonder: If we put more money in the arts beginning in kindergarten for all children, would the numbers of incarcerated/alternative education youth in this county decrease?

I personally would like to thank all the artists that participated in Art Empowers exhibition, the students who wisely used the resources, the Executive Director of Arts Council Silicon Valley, Bruce W. Davis, for his unwavering vision about what is possible, Alternative Schools Director Paula Mitchell, and my former colleague at the SCCOE, Dr. Mitsu Kumagai, Program Manager of the Youth and Arts Council.

Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native. His columns reflect his personal opinion.


  1. The four benefits cited in this piece could also be applied to sports.  Of course, there’s no funding for after-school sports either.

  2. No $$ for arts, no $$ for sports??

    SO, where does all the $$ go?

    Let me guess—salaries for teachers and a hugely bloated bureaucracy of multiple school districts, each with lots of highly paid administrators…who do what, exactly?

    Then there’s all the $$ that goes to free meals for millions of kids (whose parents brought them into the world with no possibility of providing for them properly), and all the $$ down the rathole to teach the children of illegal immigrants in their language, not ours, a high percentage of whom just droop out anyway.

    Education is becoming like criminal   “justice”.  The criminal has rights, the victims don’t.  The low level criminal who shot officer Fontana has cost the taxpayers millions of $$ in trial costs; and officer Fontana’s family has waited this entire century so far for justice.  Where is the justice for his family and friends?

    In education, if you’re quick to learn, you don’t get squat.  If you speak english as a first language, you don’t get squat.  If you’re the child of illegal immigrants, you get in-state tuition at our colleges, while the kids of taxpaying Americans from other states get the much higher out of state tuition. Schools often punish excellence and reward mediocrity and slothfulness and indifference with extra attention.

    That’s why there’s no $$ for arts and sports.

    • That is a great question to ask, where IS the money going?  Due to budget cuts and even NCLB, sports & art has been diminished both in the classroom & after school activities.  It is essential that we teach students the basic subjects (math, history, etc), but we must not be solely teaching those in a classroom.  At Cedar Grove Elementary (Evergreen School District) in San Jose, there was a two-three week period where teachers were required to cut PE for the day so that more time could be devoted to practice tests.  When will we (teachers & future teachers) be able to teach for the better of the students and their future, rather than to receive high test scores?!

  3. Jaymock #3,

    You’re “right on the money”.

    And it’s a funny thing about rewarding mediocrity and indifference. The more you reward it, the more of it there is.

    And why do these airy-fairy educators like Mr. Di Salvo insist on undermining the character building ritual of students getting up early and preparing their own bag lunch? What’s so wrong with expecting each student to make this modest effort? Is it so much to ask? We give them a free education and we feel guilty for asking them to bring their own food? How does this teach them self-sufficiency? It doesn’t. It’s the beginning of their indoctrination with being dependent on the Government for everything for the rest of their lives. I would bet that if anybody ever did a study they’d find that kids who get a free lunch in school are more likely to depend on food stamps when they “grow up”.

  4. #4—The only thing I know about Mr. DiSalvo is what he posts on SJI.  But reading his drivel, I can only say that to call him an “educator” is to insult true educators everywhere. He appaears to be someone who has found a sinecure at the public trough.  Current diversity-driven-for-its-own-sake thought sacrifices those who eventually pay all the bills to cater to those who will suck off the system for most of their lives.

    My lord, the grammar and syntax of Mr. Di Salvo’s posts would earn him a C- at best in any school that wasn’t dumbing down the curve (Uh, that would be a private school, since public schools seem to be more interested in avoiding hurting some illiterate’s self-esteem than actually teaching her/him properly). 

    Apparently, Mr. DiSalvo either doesn’t take the time to edit his musings before he posts them; or, worse still, he doesn’t know how many mistakes he makes with the language.

    • Johnmichael O’Connor,

      I found both of your comments on this article rather infuriating and quite caddy. Your admonishment of DiSalvo’s grammar is not only irrelevant to the subject of the article, but also odd considering that your own postings are laden with grammatical errors.

      In your first response, you state: “If you speak English as a first language, you don’t get squat.” I have no idea where you’re getting such misguided information, but in actuality, the non-native speakers in our classrooms are very shortchanged. The proliferation of standardized testing and the negative effects of NCLB have cut many bilingual education programs, and have made it increasingly hard for teachers to properly educate their ELLs.

      Moving on to the subject of art, I feel that its lack of funding is an immense travesty.  Art can be a powerful medium for instilling a love for learning among children of all ages. Also, it can work to improve a child’s sense of self-efficacy, which is correlated to academic success. Furthermore, as mentioned, it can be a great creative outlet. I don’t understand why art, music, drama, etc., are continually slighted!

  5. I agree that art is an important piece to the educational puzzle.  I went to performing art middle school and was deeply involved.  The arts helped me develop a good sense of self confidence and self worth.  It is sad to see that many of these programs are be cut.

  6. I cant tell you how many conversations I have had with people regarding all of the cutbacks in the arts, sports, etc.  My first reaction and concern is for the students.  We wonder why so many of them are going down the wrong path and have no passion for things.  Its because we take it away from them.  Art is an amazing emotional outlet, similar to playing a sport, writing music,etc.  So why are we taking away constructive avenues for children to release those emotions, feel proud about what they have accomplished and feel as though they are a part of a productive community.  So how are kids expressing their emotions will all this free time on their hands . . . since their is no football practice to go to or time to spend in an art studio????  oh yes, on the streets-great idea.

  7. I decided to send my son to Trace Elementary for kindergarten this year partly because they still have a performing arts program.  To my knowledge, they are the only public school in the area that employs both a full-time drama and a full-time music teacher.  I was attracted by that for several reasons, one of which is because I feel like school has gotten to be such a drag.  It seems to me that all the fun has been sucked out of school. Even in kindergarten, my son has to endure a scripted curriculum working on math and language arts all day.  At recess, his teacher yells, “Don’t run!”  At least in drama and music he can have a little release time and hopefully a little fun.  I know kids don’t go to school to have fun, but we do want them to want to go to school.  The arts can be a great motivator.

    • I completely agree that the arts can be a great motivator.  So much of school is about learning to the test.  Children do not need this pressure at such a young age; they will get enough of it as young adults and adults.  Of course school is extremely important, but kids also need to be kids.  Since our school system increasingly revolves around testing, the least we can do is offer children outlets through art, music, sports, etc.

      A friend of mine is attending high school in Santa Rosa and is partaking in a program called ArtQuest.  This program infuses either performing arts or visual arts with selected academic courses.  The program is challenging and immensely rewarding to its students who learn a great deal about academics and the arts simultaneously.  I find this program to be so wonderful because it allows students to express themselves, be creative and take part in something significant.

      While I do not feel that every school needs to have such an extensive program, I do believe that a lot can be learned from a program such as this one.  It shows the importance of the arts and also that instruction using the arts can be successful and extremely beneficial.

  8. I couldn’t agree more with the need of arts and sports in the activities for children during school. It is hard to see the cuts happen and the enjoyment being taken away from children in the school realm.

    It is the way to keep kids involved and interested in school and it helps them feel the need to go to school and gain an education. It is sad to see these things go and they should bring them back quickly.

  9. Reading through the responses to this posting, I also would like to say that I find Johnmichael O’Connor’s second response to be irrelevant and unnecessary.

    I think it is a shame there is a lack of funding for art programs in our schools. I have always felt the American education system pushed our students to pursue the areas in which they excel at. For an example, school clubs, school teams, obtaining scholarships, participating in special events, etc. When a student excels in soccer, we suggest trying out for the school or local team. When a student excels in speech, we suggest they join the school speech and debate team. In these settings, these students can shine and do what they love, meanwhile building teamwork, passion, an anti-drug, and most importantly, confidence. Why is it that when we enter college, we select Majors and Minors? Because we pick an area of interest, pursue it, and master the content in that particular field.

    As one of my professors put it, “It’s not about how smart you are. It’s about how you are smart.” Though this quote is more in terms of students’ different styles of learning, I think it can apply here as well. A student may not be “book smart”, but they may very well be “art smart”, if that makes sense. I had attended Lincoln High School my first semester before transferring to a closer high school. Lincoln is geared more towards the performing arts. The school has wonderful art, music, and dance programs, and the students excel in these classes. They have a passion for the arts and it is noticeable. They succeed in the arts. Art is no different than Math, or English, or Science, or any other subject out there. Success does not mean academic success, nor does it mean success in the arts. Success is success. It stands for achievement, whether it be in academics, arts, sports, whatever it may be. All students are allowed success, no?

  10. I think that art is a very valuable part of a child’s life.  Art is an enriching subject and it would be a shame to take that away from students.  There is so much to learn from the arts.  Art is used all over the world and can teach so much history.  It is sad to see that these programs are getting cut due to lack of funds.  ALL students should have a chance of academic achievement in ALL subjects.

  11. I also believe that is a shame that budget cuts are affecting arts and sports in schools. I understand that it is a difficult time for the country but for some reason, schools are always affected. The country needs money; let’s take it away from schools. I believe it should be the contrary. Now more than ever we need to stimulate children to continue with their education, the country needs to produce more highly educated and productive citizens.  Arts and sports are a great distraction for students and we need the stimulation for their academic success.

  12. It is a shame to see and hear about all the cutbacks that have affected the art or sports programs in our public schools, in fact, it’s a tragedy. Not only can art be a creative outlet for students but it also has so much to offer with it’s rich history and connection to the rest of the world. I think one of the reasons art is often overlooked is because money and time are so tight in a school year and we have come to concentrate more on the practical skills such as math, science and language arts. Not only is art a creative outlet for students but it also promotes social skills, self confidence, and motivation, all of which equals to academic success in their lives.

  13. As many of you have already said, it is simply a tragedy that the arts and sports are being cut from our schools. Not only do these programs create outlets for students to truly express who they are as individuals, it gives them opportunities to learn and build relationships with one another, as they work and play together.

  14. I agree that art, sports, and music can all be empowering. Also empowering is a safe, nurturing school environment, teachers who care, community support, and self-esteem.

    I just began reading An Ethic of Excellence by Ron Berger. Yes, it’s another person with a theory on fixing schools but what I appreciate about this book is that Berger admits there is no cure-all answer that works. He knows that the ideas he suggests aren’t going to work for all schools and that what he proposes takes lots of time and work from everyone involved.

    Of course art is a valuable subject but it’s not the only one or the most important one.