Visual and Performing Arts

Our budget for the arts? We can do better.

Which students are getting access to the SFUSD Arts Festival?

I’m so proud of this artwork by my daughter. Thank you to her art teacher Ms. McAvoy for this project, where students emulate Asian-American artists as a way to learn about them.

It was modeled after the work of Tyrus Wong, a Chinese American watercolor artist and illustrator widely known for his work on the 1942 Disney film, “Bambi.”  

Speaking of art, a few months ago I was very excited to learn my daughter had another piece selected to be in the SFUSD Arts Festival this spring. I only found out because she shared a field trip form to see her work on display.

But I was surprised when she said she wasn’t interested in going. Despite my efforts, she opted to stay in school with her friends.

I was curious. If my daughter had her work displayed but didn’t care about going, how valuable was the show to her peers? Six other students (out of 600) at her school were chosen as well. Did they go on the field trip?

And, as the Board of Education’s Budget Chair, I wondered if this centrally-focused student exhibit (that costs the district almost $100k to produce) was worth the time and money we invested? Could this money be better spent buying art materials for students? Or paying for an art teacher at a low-income school?

A lot of us are asking these questions

It turns out I am not alone.

The Public Education Enrichment Fund (PEEF) pays for art programming in our district and we are lucky to have it. The PEEF Community Advisory Committee oversees this fund. It has been asking the same questions for several years: Last year in 2018, 153 students took part in the Arts Festival. We have 54,000 students in SFUSD. That means the percentage of student artists who took part in last year’s Arts Festival was only .02%! With numbers like these, many folks are wondering: Is the money we spend on events like the SFUSD Arts Festival really worth it if they reach so few students?

Of my two kids, over the past nine years in school, only one has even participated. What about the kids (like my other daughter and many of her friends) who never even participate?

Let’s go to the numbers

After studying districtwide data, I can see my experience is not uncommon. In 2018, only 64% of SFUSD schools participated in the Arts Festival. And keep in mind, school participation is counted even if ONLY ONE student’s art is chosen from that school!

Here is data on Spring 2018 Arts Festival representation by school and by demographic.

Our ultimate goal

Commissioner Lopez and I want to increase VAPA programming. To do this, we need to ensure more of its budget goes directly to the classroom.

We are dedicated to providing ALL students with high quality art experiences in our schools. This is part of what we were elected to do.

Right now, it just doesn’t add up

As I’ve written in previous posts, folks are asking questions about how VAPA money is spent. Some of it just doesn’t add up. What’s even more concerning is learning, based on recent participation data, that our most underserved students are not getting access to many VAPA programs.

I believe we all want the same thing: VAPA policies that empower parents, arts teachers and community partners to work together — with district leadership — to make quality arts instruction a reality.

Unfortunately, many of us also have personal experience with the inequities in our system.

One more thing

My daughter is graduating from middle school in a few days, but she has no idea how or when she will be getting her artwork back from the Festival. I checked with another art teacher and she said it can take a long time.

My daughter doesn’t know when she’ll have it back.

We can do better

I am glad to be engaged in this conversation. I believe we have a Board that sees the true value of the arts. I believe we have a Board committed to ensuring quality art and music instruction reaches all our classrooms.

Right now we have a VAPA budget that in many cases doesn’t add up — that’s not right.  We also have programs that aren’t reaching all students—that’s not fair.

We can do better. Commissioner Lopez and I believe SFUSD can spend money in more effective ways and give every kid access to art in our schools!

Read more about the importance of music and arts instruction:

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