NJ arts education survived COVID, with dance and theater thriving
When the organization that is now Arts Ed NJ first surveyed New Jersey schools about their offerings in dance, music, theater, and visual arts in 2006, 77,000 students in the Garden State did not have access to adequate programs in these disciplines.
In a decade and a half, that number has been cut by 90% to around 7,000, according to Arts Ed NJ Executive Director Bob Morrison, analyzing the results of the group's latest report, "The Resilience of Arts Ed Now: Beyond the Pandemic."
This most recent study, through 2021, took a five-year look back, including the first two years of learning impacted by COVID-19.
Morrison acknowledged the pandemic changed the ways that students participated in arts programs, as it did for all types of education.
But in the Garden State at least, those students stayed engaged in the arts, or even became more involved.
"In the state of New Jersey, there is an expectation that students will have access to dance, music, theater, and visual art," Morrison said.
Two of those four, music and visual arts, are what usually come to people's minds first in this regard, according to Morrison, but dance and theatre are catching up.
To put some numbers behind that, Arts Ed NJ found that in looking only at schools that offered dance, there is now a 30% participation rate, and of only the schools that offer theater, student participation was at 18%.
Those might seem like small figures, but Morrison said they reflect a big shift.
"There was real significant growth in those areas over the last five years, and I think that's something really to celebrate," he said.
All told, Morrison said the survey showed that 76% of New Jersey students now avail themselves of some sort of arts programming at school.
Maintaining a solid showing in the arts was never a matter of a lack of interest in New Jersey, he said, just a lack of opportunity — until very recently.
"More than 1 million students are participating in our arts education programs and that number, when we look at similar numbers from across the country, is very high," Morrison said.
There are concerns and areas of improvement that Morrison identified, primarily in providing better equity regardless of a school, district, or municipality's economic status.
Also, even though Morrison said New Jersey's institutions of higher education are churning out certified dance and theater instructors to helm new or improved programs, he expects lingering COVID worker shortages to extend to these disciplines.
"I think it would be misleading to think that those shortages won't impact arts education the same way that they're impacting other areas," he said.
Still, with per-pupil spending on the arts on the rise across all grade levels, the future seems bright.
For the full report, click here.