Op-Ed: Arts Education Is Career Preparation 

As published in the Providence Journal
Your Turn By Randall Rosenbaum Guest columnist

We’ve all heard stories about parents urging their children to pursue careers in business or medicine. “Anything but the arts!” is a common refrain.

That is such 20th century thinking. Today, lots of high paying jobs go to creative thinkers and doers, many of them artists or people with some arts education in school. Studies prove that arts education provides the skills critical to 21st century success. According to The Conference Board, eighty-five percent of business leaders say they can’t find enough job applicants with creativity and innovation skills. The best paying jobs require workers with creativity and higher order thinking and communication skills. Employers are increasingly looking for these qualities in the workers they recruit. Arts education, pre-K-12 and beyond, is part of the solution to this challenge.

What about our students looking for a career in an arts-related field? Opportunities abound that are high wage and high demand. Research by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) shows that in Rhode Island the arts and culture annually contribute over $2.0 billion annually to our economy and employ 17,700 with compensation over $1.1 billion. The opportunities are there. So why is there resistance to promoting the arts as a viable career path for young people?

We believe that the arts will never become a viable employment sector until we start to promote arts careers during a student’s time in school. Young people need to understand that what they love in school can also be what they love as a career. Arts education in our state is facing the same challenges it faced in the 20th century. Arts educators, guidance counselors and others in career and technical education should be in a position to help guide students toward careers in the arts, just as they would in any other discipline, but they are not equipped or charged to do so.

We need to develop the infrastructure and support mechanisms to broaden – not limit – what the Rhode Island workforce can become. As important as the manufacturing sector has been in Rhode Island’s past, the arts, tourism, 21st century technology and other pursuits can be in our present and future.

In California, career and technical educators see careers in what they call the “Arts, Media, and Entertainment” sector falling into four general areas: Design, Visual, and Media Arts; Performing Arts; Production and Managerial Arts; and Game Design and Integration. These are all viable areas in Rhode Island, but we can add a few more. In our state, the arts are uniquely situated to train the next generation of artists and craftspeople through internships and apprenticeships. This is particularly important for those young people who do not see college as their path. The work that is being done by The Steel Yard in Providence, for example, helps to provide both traditional and non-traditional training programs for artists and craftspeople.

Now is the time for our government, education and business leaders to be forward thinking about career education in Rhode Island. We don’t know what the workforce will look like in 15-20 years, but we do know that visual literacy, media arts and design will be key components of industry.  Our state’s Commerce Corporation, in commissioning “Rhode Island Innovates 2.0” from the Brookings Institution, identifies the arts as an “opportunity area”. We encourage the State’s Career and Technical Education and the Governor’s Workforce Boards to embrace this finding. The arts ARE a legitimate career path for our young people. Schools should be encouraged to formalize the arts as part of the education all students receive, including career and technical education programs.

Randall Rosenbaum is the Executive Director of the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts.

National ‘Arts ARE Education’ campaign kicks off and coincides with Youth Art Month

March’s Youth Art Month is themed ‘Arts Connect Us’

March is Youth Art Month, and as the month begins the RI Council on the Arts (RISCA) is partnering with arts educators throughout Rhode Island to kick off a national campaign to punctuate the ongoing value of arts education for pre-K-12 students and beyond.   

Titled Arts ARE Education, the goal of this educational campaign  is to emphasize the importance of arts education as a central component to the well-rounded education of all students. Arts educators in dance, media arts, music, theater and visual arts throughout the school year and the summer will be contacting legislators, and school boards and administrators to remind them of the long-lasting benefits of the arts, and their overwhelming impact on students in our schools.  

Rhode Island has a commitment to arts education, recognizing it as a core subject and requiring including it as a “comprehensive program of study.” With budget shortfalls expected for the 2021-22 school year due to the pandemic, the campaign points out the key intersection of the arts in enriching students’ lives, reigniting motivation to learn, as well as helping to bring successes in many other subject areas. When considering budgets, Arts ARE Education presents a clear picture of the critical arts skills students need to develop to assist them in being productive, and college- and career-ready individuals.

Be sure to tell RISCA how you get involved by filling out the survey, Arts ARE Education Rhode Island Action Survey.

“This educational campaign couldn’t be more welcome, as arts educators are facing challenges beyond what other classroom teachers face. RI arts educators, parents and students should remind education leaders at the state and local level about the economic and educational impact of creativity and the arts to all students. I am glad that this campaign will help RI arts educators carry the message that the arts are an essential part of every student’s education, particularly during a pandemic, when so much else has been changed or lost.”  

–Randall Rosenbaum, Executive Director, RI State Council on the Arts

Throughout Youth Art Month, which is themed Arts Connect Us, and during this summer, arts educators will be asking for school boards to pass the Arts ARE Education Resolution and for all arts stakeholders to sign the Arts ARE Education Pledge, in addition to other educational activities found on the Arts Are Education website.  

About Arts Are Education: Arts ARE Education was inspired by the Arts Education is Essential document that was issued by NCCAS in April and endorsed by 111 national organizations. The statement articulated how arts experiences support the social and emotional well-being of students and nurtures the creation of a welcoming school environment where all students can express themselves in a safe and positive way. To learn more about the Arts ARE Education campaign and to get involved visit https://www.artsareeducation.org

Read the RI Board of Education’s regulations regarding arts in the schools. Click here:

Lockdown story: COVID-19’s effect on an educational arts program

During the pandemic, Johnston’s Donna Tellier, Founder and Director of Johnston Dance and Performing Arts (J-DAPA), had to halt all programming for her students. With nearly all her efforts to keep her 14-year-old enrichment program alive meeting with frustration, concern began to grow about the survival of her after-school work in Johnston with K-12 students.

Her season usually consists of a fall and spring musical, and winter and spring recitals. The program specializes in working with young people who are interested in learning the technical aspects of putting on a show. They gain experience by learning from trained professionals. Her staff varies in age range and experience, she said. She added about her team, “We all have one thing in common – a passion to teach the arts and instill a love for performing in the hearts of all of our students.”


Heeding the call of economic hardship among RI’s arts community due to the pandemic, RISCA administered $1 million in Covid Relief Funds (CRF) to artists, professional arts education associations, and arts and culture organizations. The funds provided badly needed assistance to members of the arts and culture community who were suffering losses.

To fully understand the impact of COVID-19 on educational arts programs like Tellier’s J-DAPA, we asked Tellier to describe her experience.

Q: How has COVID-19 affected your work?

Donna Tellier: Unfortunately, due to COVID 19 we were not allowed to have our program in the schools. After careful consideration, I have decided to hold off on recitals until Johnston schools allow all regular indoor after school activities.

We started to hold virtual classes and rehearsals for our school musical Matilda. We were hoping to have a few weeks of free review classes, followed by an outdoor recital but ran into some liability issues. We tried to have a recital in a church hall but again, were faced with more liability issues. We even considered live streaming the recital on YouTube, but we were not able to find a location to record the dancers that was safe. Each potential plan that we came up with led us to a road block every time.

Q: Because of the pandemic, what changes and adjustments have you had to keep your program viable?

Donna Tellier: Personally, it breaks my heart that our students haven’t had the chance to wear their costumes and perform the routines that they worked so hard on, but the safety of our J-DAPA family is, and always will be our main concern. Rest assured, we will keep trying to make this happen as soon as possible.

I don’t know when after school programs will he allowed back in the high school, that is why, thanks to the RISCA CRF Grant, we have some help covering some of our losses. I was glad that our lighting technician mentioned that he heard about the grant on Facebook. Even with the incredible amount of support and donations that we have received during these very difficult times, J-DAPA is struggling to stay afloat.

I am looking for a new home for the program to continue. I am currently in the process of searching for a building to rent because after school programs are not allowed in the schools. I am hoping to find a place to hold classes and rehearsals safely and continue to offer classes at a low rate. If anyone has any connections or leads to a space that we could rent for little to no cost, please let us know.

Q: Can you tell us about you and your work in the arts?

Donna Tellier: As a young girl from a large lower income family I loved dance and theater and the confidence it gave me, especially because I was a very shy child. However, the cost of dance lessons and performance costumes were always too expensive for my parents, and therefore I was pulled from my love of the arts whenever my family couldn’t afford it.

I vowed that someday I would start a program for families like mine, for children like me. When my children started elementary school, I offered the idea of a dance and theater program to their school principal. Then, I presented our idea to the school committee, and we were approved.

In 1998, I started Thornton Dance and Performing Arts. All the money raised from performances and classes went back into the program to help make classes affordable for less fortunate children whose families could not afford dance classes.

In 2007, we changed the name to Johnston Dance and Performing Arts (J-DAPA) combining our Thornton program to create a fully inclusive program to the community and surrounding communities in Rhode Island. By late summer of 2016, J-DAPA finally became a state recognized nonprofit organization.

We offer many different types of dance including lyrical, ballet, tap, hip – hop, jazz and acro, as well as acting classes and singing lessons. Our season typically consists of a fall musical, winter recital, spring musical and spring recital.