We have several excellent art programs here at Agoura. From the award winning music and theatre programs to the immensely talented fine artists and photographers, Agoura is steeped in talent and renown in regards to the arts. However, despite the fact that our art departments are so distinguished, day to day it can still feel like the arts as whole are underappreciated and underrepresented in public school systems. This is not to say that our school or LVUSD neglects the arts. In fact, our district is extremely privileged to have several generous donors and high class facilities, such as the PAEC, dedicated to the arts. Mr. Goldman, the technical director and teacher for the theatre department, knows well that this type of support is rare, remarking, “At Diviners, we had everyone from board members to the superintendent to our principal and vice principals all in the room, and that's something that I very rarely see at the high school level.” The administrative and community support for some of our art departments is remarkable and more than many other schools receive; however, the social stigma and lack of understanding of the arts on a high school campus is still something that needs to be adjusted and improved, even here. In order to highlight some of the spectacular artists at this school, as well as to providing a case as to why providing the arts in schools is valuable, I spoke with faculty and students about their experience in the arts at Agoura.
While LVUSD is a relatively supportive district, the way public school systems in general have been set up over time has created the basic idea that the arts are less valuable or less desirable to teach in schools, due to the fact that students’ success in them cannot be easily measured. Students’ success in school is measured by standardized testing nowadays, as it creates an equal opportunity to assess students for their knowledge on a given subject. However, when practicing art, “There [are] so many different ways to do the right thing, so finding success in the arts is very different from one person to the next,” (Dafna Danesh ‘18, Photography). Success in the arts is less narrowly defined than it is in STEM classes, making the typical forms of testing not practical to apply to the arts. When success is hard to measure, it is difficult for school systems to justify allocating money to the arts. Another reason why funding for the arts is likely hard to justify is because “the numbers via cost per person in the arts is astronomical. When you look at the cost of putting on a play and how many students are involved, and then you look at the cost of putting on a sports team and how many students are involved, it’s actually a lot less expensive to support non-arts activities. So, school systems struggle to justify the amount of money [it takes] to fund the arts, and I think that's where the problem occurs. It’s the lack of understanding at the administrative level of what it truly takes to support creativity.” (Mr. Goldman, Theatre)
So what does it take to truly support creativity? Advocacy and acknowledgment. And not just acknowledgment from the school or the district, which I grant we do receive to an extent, but acknowledgment from our fellow peers and classmates. A general frustration of mine, which was echoed by many student artists that I spoke to on this campus, is that even though we have support from teachers and administrators at school, the support from the general student body is consistently less enthusiastic. Sophomore Benny Cohn of the music program feels that, “Everyone goes to football games and sports events, but no one ever really shows up to any band things, so they kind of don’t really know who we are.” Senior studio art student Alcatraz Perez agrees that greater recognition for the arts amongst her peers is important, saying, “[There] should be more recognition, I mean we have artist of the month, but I feel like there are so many artists who don’t really get the recognition they deserve.” When our art departments are so talented, it seems outrageous that recognition is the area in which students feel we are lacking. However, senior AP Photo student Dafna Danesh feels the key to gaining a more established presence on campus “is just getting more of our stuff out there, creating more events, putting more of our art up, really putting it in people’s faces. I think then and only then, people will start having a better view of what we actually do, and how much work we actually put into the arts.”
Greater recognition and appreciation for the arts in schools is essential. Many advanced artists that I spoke to did not even know they had a passion or talent for art until they entered high school. AP Photo student Hannah Portillo said, “I didn’t even know I had a passion for photography until I actually took a class, so [making the arts accessible in schools] helps people find their passions in an easy way.” By fostering a community where people feel encouraged and empowered to participate in the arts, more students could have the opportunity to find a creative outlet. Gaby Carr, principal cellist of Orchestra II, thinks that, “just being able to be in an environment where you see the arts around you, you’re more likely to be like, ‘Hey that looks fun! I really want to do that; I want to play that instrument, I want to star in that musical’, and you get a wider base of people who wouldn’t normally do that.” Fine Arts teacher Mrs. Llewelyn echoes a similar sentiment, remarking, “A lot of people don’t realize they have artistic talent, so if you’re almost forced to be exposed to it in school, you may discover something that you like or you’re good at. Whereas if you don’t think you can draw, you’re never going to take a chance and sign up for an art class that costs money if you think you’re going to fail.” According to a 2016 study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, she is right, as the percentage of students involved in arts activities outside of school has dramatically decreased between 2008 and 2016, which means that making the arts accessible and important in schools is all the more vital.
Although success in the arts cannot be measured by standardized testing, the lessons learned through creative participation are invaluable. Both the music and theatre teachers realize that even if students do not want to pursue the arts after high school, they teach valuable lessons that are essential to working in any field. Mr. Krassner, director and theatre teacher, is fully aware of this, saying, “The world is progressing technically so fast, so they’re looking for people to lead technology. And that happens in an arts classroom; that happens in establishing collaboration, in establishing communication, and in being able to create something out of nothing.” Theatre student Bella Sementilli is a testament to this, claiming that she was extremely shy before high school, but participating in the arts has allowed her to become a more fearless and self assured person. She feels that she’s learned to, “just be [herself], because it’s better to go all out and try with whatever art you’re doing than to not try at all.”
On that same idea, involvement in the arts is proven to greatly improve students’ self confidence, and their social and emotional well being. Mr. Hackett, one of the music teachers, has observed that students involved in music and art, “tend to know how to balance life. It’s also cultural, music and the arts are incredibly important to the social and emotional well being of a well rounded individual. And we need that.” Students agree, we do need that. AP Studio Art student Noa Villarin says that involvement in the arts “helps me personally to have a healthy mindset. Just with all the stress from my other classes, it helps me put all my other energy into something else and be creative with that.” If nothing else, the emotional effect creativity has on students should be enough to keep the arts as an essential aspect of our education system.
The arts as a whole at Agoura are stellar, yet recognition and the general attitude towards them still have room for improvement. Teachers and students alike recognize the value and importance of offering them, but overall, what they desire most is greater recognition and advocacy for their creativity.
Julia is very excited to be contributing to The Charger. She's pretty enthusiastic about life in general, but especially loves playing the oboe and watching reruns of The Office for the millionth time.