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Local artists fight to keep art in schools

By Ashley Ropar
Point Park News Service

After a day of fundraising, Michelle Barabas found her briefcase was stolen, along with the $1,500 raised that day to support art education in Pittsburgh area schools.

Barabas and supporters were undeterred as they gathered for the second day of Art Squared in Market Square, where they continued to showcase their talents in displays that invited the public to take part and learn about their cause.

While budget cuts threaten art education, Michelle Barabas, director of Art Resource Teaching Society (ARTS), and affiliated artists spent two days in Market Square raising funds and awareness, in addition to hosting art supply drives.

“If we can’t get the bureaucrats in other cities to fund art programs, we will do it,” said Zachary Carey, supporter of ARTS.

Barabas and supporters hit the streets because school districts, whose budgets have been based on 2010-2011 funding, are beginning to realize the effects of Governor Corbett’s 2011-2012 budget which cuts $550 million from public education.

State wide this has meant cuts to teaching supplies and reduced class time or elimination of art and music programs. In East Allegheny, the elementary art program was cut and the high school library was closed.  The West Mifflin and Fort Cherry School Districts eliminated elementary instrumental music, as Bethel Park and Mt. Lebanon grapple with cutting programs.

“All surrounding areas got cut…nothing in [Pittsburgh] is cut so the school board can deny all plausibility of cutting art education in the city,” Barabas said.

Barabas started ARTS, which helps artists develop their careers, after being unable to find affordable representation herself. Other than holding fundraising events, ARTS collects donations of supplies for teachers and students. At the event, artists caught the public’s attention with displays of airbrushing, watercolor, and chainmail jewelry that invited onlookers to join in.

The stolen briefcase after the first day of Art Squared tragically highlighted artists’ fight to keep art in our schools.

“We are robbing our kids from experiencing art…if we take the crayons out of our kid’s hands, that’s it. We don’t have art anymore,” Barabas said.

ARTS is driven by a belief in the power of creativity. “[We] invite the public to be creative; everyone has the capacity to be creative,” Carey said.

Researchers agree; the College Board reported in 2010 that students in high school who took four years of arts classes averaged 91 points higher on their SAT scores then their peers that took a half year or less of art education. According to research by the Pennsylvania State Education Association, when subjects such as math and science combine with art and music education there is a boost in student achievement and test scores.

Barabas explained why it is important for every student to be exposed to the arts, even if they are not particularly skilled.

“[It’s about] emotional and intellectual development,” Barabas said. “It takes a lot more than math and science to create an emotionally healthy person.”

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