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great nations deserve great art

Posted By Salt Lake County ZAP
October 20, 2015

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I have heard that great nations deserve great art. But, as an art educator, I often wonder if people really understand the importance of the arts. There is a great emphasis on science and math education; art programs are often seen as the filler. But should they be? Art requires the use of our senses and emotions to react to what we see, what we hear, or what we feel in our hearts.  Art engages us with the world at a visceral level. Art teaches us about humanity.

It’s Left to Teachers

In lower-income communities, access to art museums can be difficult. For a family of five, the museum may be too expensive, too far away or unknown due to lack of promotion in certain areas. So, the task of learning about, and understanding, art is often left to teachers – teachers with large class sizes and limited resources. Field trips to create access to the arts are coveted by art teachers. But even with one field trip per year, access is limited. Lucky teachers (like me) have close to 300 students each semester. With two semesters, that’s a total of 600 students. But buses can only fit 40 students. So, out of 600, only 40 students get to enjoy an art-related field trip – that is not enough. Learning the remarkableness of art from books alone is like learning to grow a garden from drawing daisies on paper. 

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Students created the decorations for the Christmas tree at the White House. 

Can Art Appreciation Start Earlier?

People value, respect and understand art by feeling comfortable with it from an early age. Instead of being something for fancy and sophisticated people, art can be understood as something that makes our environment more beautiful. It is something that brings joy or excitement to our soul. In places like Mexico City, where art is everywhere, art access is a right and matter of pride. Art is national patrimony; it belongs to the people. Once a week, people have free access to art museums and culture in general. Art appreciation and enjoyment is the cheapest activity; on the weekend, in multiple places around the city, complete families go to museums, galleries, parks and plazas to enjoy all kinds of art – for free. In cities like ours, however, art education and public art events sometimes feel like something for the elite.


Art Education in my Classroom

With lack of easy access to art for residents of some areas of our county, teachers like me do virtual tours and research – hoping that technology can give us a little bit of that much needed art exposure. Just this last semester, in preparation for our own self-portrait sculpting project, my students completed a “Portrait throughout History” research paper. At the end of the paper, I request that the students write a conclusion. To my amazement, one of my students wrote the following:

“The importance of sculpture in the history of human kind is immense. What we can create with our bare hands and with the help of tools is astonishing. We can learn so much about people from sculptures of the past in the sense that what they created are like books today. We can read into them and discover the artist and what things were like during that period. With sculpture we can create things from our imagination and mind. It helps creativity flow and erupt from within. The importance of art is knowledge, within sculpture and art comes the need to discover even more about ourselves, what came before us and discover more about what is within us. We find out things that are new and exciting and gain new knowledge about humanity” (J.C. Kearns High student, 2015).

When I read a conclusion like this, I realize that art is something that makes all of us not only understand each other better, but we appreciate the similarities of our greatness – no matter where we are from. Organizations like ZAP are incredibly valuable to our community because they expand the access we have to that greatness. ZAP board members work really hard to expand the appreciation of the arts, to promote the riches of our Salt Lake County community. Through ZAP, we show that we value the arts and the opinions of all of our residents. ZAP is a great asset to Salt Lake County art educators and Utah’s lifelong learning.

- Noemi Verónica Hernández Balcázar, ZAP Tier II Board Member 

Noemi is a ZAP Tier II Advisory Board Member and art teacher at Kearns High School