Whole child education, and what it means to have a “liberal arts education” aside, arts education is not only relevant, but it’s economically and culturally important to sustain in our schools. The creative class, that contingent of people within the workforce that create the content that the rest of us consume, is entering the driver’s seat in the 21st century. Graphic designers, animators, copywriters, innovators in every industry are the future of our economic and cultural trademark. That class of people requires the kind of creative and conceptual cultivation that an arts education provides.
Critical thinking, non-linear conceptualization, the ability to synthesize information from various sources into unique ideas, are all components of an arts education. You’re not going to get that from a “robust” science course whose standardized assessment requires filling in the correct bubbles on a multiple choice test over the periodic table. You’re also not going to nurture out of the box thinking on the football field, where kids are required to “do this when you’re told to”. Figuring out how to turn a photograph into a unique oil painting is conceptual thinking. Working with four other kids to perfect a jazz ensemble contest piece is promoting teamwork as well as rigor. Recreating the physical and vocal characteristics of a German soldier from a script and some research for a school play is synthesizing information to create something truly original.
These are the skills and qualities that are needed in the workforce today, and if we’re looking at a triage situation in terms of which programs to cut at school, the arts programs are the investment we should be making.
Athletic programs have their own benefits; applying effort, teamwork, loyalty, and strong lifestyle habits of exercise and nutrition. Most of these programs are already fed by club teams, and even those smaller districts that aren't can easily start them. Arts programs need specialized instruction, and often require more expensive materials. However, most administrators in a school district are going to look at the amount of money that a Friday night football game brings in, and the amount of money the school band concerts bring in, and are often making purely fiscal (and popular) decisions. Arts education is too important to cast off as a non-contributing, non-important facet of our public education system, but if it is, we're going to see a significant depletion of our intellectual and creative capital in the generation to come.