Steps | Summer 2017,
09:10 AM

Knocking the ‘Fluff’ Out of Art

By Christine Vaughan

Merryl Goldberg is on a mission to change public perception of the arts.

“I’ve never met a kid who wasn’t capable,” said Goldberg, a music professor in CSUSM’s School of Arts. “I have met a lot of kids who haven’t had opportunities. I was one of those kids for whom the arts opened a world of possibility.”

For Goldberg – an avid boxer with a wicked left hook and longtime professional saxophonist turned renowned leader in arts education – one of the greatest challenges to fully integrating the arts in K-12 education is debunking the notion that arts are fluff or “nice to have” despite what research proves.

“There is now a significant body of research that shows that kids who participate in the arts perform better in school, attain better jobs and become empathetic citizens” said Goldberg, who has been studying how art influences learning for more than two decades. “But what I have found is that the research isn’t enough.”

To break through that stigma of fluff, Goldberg is zeroing in on public awareness as part of her newest endeavor, ARTS=OPPORTUNITY, a research-based initiative backed by a $200,000 grant from the Stuart Foundation and $25,000 grant from the Panta Rhea Foundation. ARTS=OPPORTUNITY focuses on improving K-12 arts literacy and advocates that every child, every day needs to have real opportunities to learn in, and through, the arts.

Led by a team of artists, educators and business leaders, the multifaceted program, which launched late last year, provides leadership training, summits, workshops and anchor events for educators, parents, youth and teens, and arts providers.

Goldberg has her sights set on the big picture. Beyond improving K-12 test scores and attendance rates, which increase significantly when art is integrated in the K-12 curriculum, research shows that participation in the arts can be a precursor to career success and civic involvement.

Not only does art encourage risk taking, flexibility and thinking outside of the box, but a student who participates in art is more likely to pursue and succeed in college. Art-literate students are sought after as employees and set higher career goals.

“Art is essential and it unlocks opportunity,” Goldberg said. “I revel in helping to change the landscape of education so that all kids, especially kids who have not had opportunities, have a chance to have arts fused into their daily lives.”

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