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Supporting the Arts

Michele Rabkin
Friday January 16, 2004

Editors, Daily Planet: 

I was pleased to read your editorial lauding the arts in Berkeley public schools (“Local Arts Deserve Support,” Daily Planet, Jan. 9-12). Several upcoming events will showcase Berkeley students as part of a countywide “Art IS Education” celebration. The Performing Arts Showcase on Sunday, March 28 from 1-4:15 p.m. in the Community Theater will feature music, dance, and theater performances by students from all Berkeley schools, and an exhibit of visual art by Berkeley High students will be on display in the lobby. The citywide Youth Arts Festival taking place at the Berkeley Art Center March 3 through April 3 will feature an exhibit of visual art by Berkeley students in kindergarten through eighth grade, as well as a number of live student performances. An opening reception will take place on Wednesday, March 3 from 5-7 p.m. All these events are free and open to the public. More details will be available soon on the BUSD website. 

Readers may wonder how arts education has survived in Berkeley schools in these hard economic times. The people of Berkeley have been ahead of the curve in recognizing that the arts are an important part of a well-rounded, high-quality public education, and they’ve been willing to make a financial commitment in support of these ideals. When voters overwhelming approved renewal of the Berkeley Schools Excellence Project (BSEP) tax measure in 1994, a portion of the funding was specifically earmarked for elementary school instrumental music instruction, which was on the brink of extinction. Beyond the money earmarked for music, other BSEP funds have helped keep the visual and performing arts alive in Berkeley schools. 

Berkeley High School continues to have a strong arts program—though it no longer has the three choirs that alumna Lorraine Hunt Lieberson remembers so fondly—but arts offerings at the elementary and middle schools vary widely from site to site. Hardworking teachers and part-time specialists do what they can to expose children to the arts, but funding has not supported the implementation of an articulated arts curriculum based on the Visual and Performing Arts Standards set by the Department of Education. Offering solid, sequential arts instruction has become even more important now that the UC system has added a visual and performing arts component to its admissions requirements. 

Soon BSEP will be up for renewal, and Berkeley voters will once again have an opportunity to demonstrate their support for arts education at the ballot box. Members of the community are gathering in coming months to re-write BSEP, and the Berkeley Arts Education Steering Committee and other arts advocacy groups will be working to make sure that it provides needed support for all the visual and performing arts. If readers are interested in learning more, I encourage them to contact Suzanne McCollough, the BUSD Visual and Performing Arts Coordinator (itself a hard-fought-for and still tentatively funded position) at 644-8772. 

I attended Berkeley public schools, and the outstanding arts programs to which I had access led me directly to my college education and professional career, as they did for a number of my peers. While only a few students find their vocations through the arts, all are given an outlet for creative expression, gain new knowledge and abilities, and build crucial communication and problem-solving skills that can improve their scholastic performance—benefits that last a lifetime. I hope that forward-thinking Berkeley voters will preserve and improve arts education in our public schools through their continued support of BSEP. 

Michele Rabkin 

Member, Berkeley Arts Education Steering Committee