To the Editor:
No doubt you’ve heard this before. New Bedford is a hotbed of the arts. Not long ago, the Massachusetts Cultural Council declared the city the “most creative community” in the state. Previously, The Atlantic Monthly magazine named New Bedford the “Most Artistic City in America.”
It abounds with a plethora of artists, galleries, the UMass Dartmouth Fine Arts Department, film makers, numerous theater and performing arts groups, a fine symphony orchestra, cultural collaboratives, and museums.
One might think an affluent community in close proximity to such a beacon of the arts might reflect an appreciation for the potential the arts offer to the education of their children and to the prestige of the community in general. Alas, in our special community to the east, not so much.
Each year when budget season rolls around, the arts are invariably perceived to be expendable. Whether it be a town organization or the school department, the arts are always the first to be threatened with a trip to the chopping block.
The Old Rochester Regional School Committee’s Budget Sub-committee is recommending a 4.7 percent increase over the current budget which to their credit includes, along with other upgrades and services, making a part-time art teacher full-time. However, the district has been informed by the towns’ leaders to expect significantly less. The result … wait for it … would be to drop one high school art teacher back to part time and to cut the junior high’s music teacher, resulting in the elimination of the school’s band and music program.
It is ironic that just as the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) announced in February that the arts are “integral to what determines a successful school in the Commonwealth” and that “access and participation in arts education be included in Massachusetts Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) as a strategy to broaden the curriculum for every Massachusetts child,” Old Rochester succumbs to using cuts in the arts as a threat.
Adding insult to injury, the School Committee has been told that the Old Rochester Community Television (ORCTV), whose studios are housed at the high school, will no longer fund the district’s schools’ video programs which it has done for a number of years resulting in … wait for it again … the likely disappearance of all video classes at the high school and programs at the elementary schools. Considering that the video production classes are the only ones that encompass all learning disciplines including art, music, reading, writing and performing not to mention technology as well as learning styles which include visual, aural, linguistic and kinetic, this would be a significant loss.
Whether these important curricula will be lost remains to be seen. Their demise would be another blow to the arts, the overall curriculum and the district standing academically. Having served on a school committee and on numerous statewide arts advocacy boards, I understand that this is the first skirmish in a long budgetary battle which will result in some sort of compromise. Nevertheless, this mindset that the first to go are the arts must change if the community expects to maintain a viable educational program in our schools.
With current regime in Washington threatening to cut the National Endowment for the Arts, those who count the arts as expendable will be emboldened. The struggle to support creativity in schools and communities will go on. It is up to the education leadership and the fiscal decision makers to recognize that the arts in schools must have consistent funding and status along with the other core subjects of Science, Technology, English, and Math.
The arts may be losing support in Washington, but here in Massachusetts it is finding it at the highest levels. The tri-town communities would do well to learn, as their counterparts across the State and nearby have, that a commitment to achieve the goal of returning the arts to their rightful place in the community and “integral to what determines a successful school in our children’s education” is the right thing to do. But, you’ve heard all this before.
Dick Morgado, Mattapoisett
The views expressed in the “Letters to the Editor” column are not necessarily those of The Wanderer, its staff, or advertisers. The Wanderer will gladly accept any and all correspondence relating to timely and pertinent issues in the great Marion, Mattapoisett and Rochester area, provided they include the author’s name, address and phone number for verification. We cannot publish anonymous, unsigned or unconfirmed submissions. The Wanderer reserves the right to edit, condense and otherwise alter submissions for purposes of clarity and/or spacing considerations. The Wanderer may choose to not run letters that thank businesses, and The Wanderer has the right to edit letters to omit business names. The Wanderer also reserves the right to deny publication of any submitted correspondence.