Dana Reifler Amator
Composite image: photo of Dana Reifler Amato's studio and drawing by Peter Doo
photo by Jason Okutake
Of great importance to schools struggling to close achievement gaps are the indications that for certain populations-including students from economically disadvantaged circumstances and students needing remedial instruction-learning in the arts may be uniquely able to boost learning and achievement.
-from The Arts: Critical Links to Student Success by Richard J. Deasy and Lauren Stevenson
After a long night of waiting tables, an emerging Baltimore artist arrives back at her studio with intentions of working on a painting for an upcoming exhibit. Exhausted but motivated, she is confronted with an eviction warning under her door. With her part-time income going to pay for her apartment, health care, and bills, it is hard to afford an art studio too. It comes down to two options for most working artists: Make money or make art.
This is not a unique problem. Many visual and performing artists are in a perpetual hunt to find the perfect studio space at the right price. Historically, artists flock to the lowest-rent pockets in a city. But in both an affirming and cruel way, as a part of town becomes established as an "arts district," the real estate becomes highly desirable and soon becomes the "hot" spot. Shortly thereafter, the vicious cycle begins. Rent goes up, the artists are forced to move out, and their studios are transformed into luxury condominiums.
This is not an unsolvable problem. What if free studio space were made available to artists in locations throughout Baltimore? Studios that would provide artists the opportunity to devote more time to making their work and less time to working odd jobs to pay for studio rent. Studios that would allow artists time to be more productive and allow ideas to evolve and flourish. Studios that would spread the uplifting effects of an arts district into the wider city.
A look at the 2006 facilities inventory shows that many Baltimore City schools have excess capacity-large amounts of it, in many cases (see map at left). We thought, what if that space were made available to painters and sculptors and musicians and dancers as places to work in exchange for providing a certain amount of instruction to students within that school? How inspirational would it be for students to be able to see or hear work being created in the moment? It would be an entirely different experience than simply taking an art class with an art teacher. And when this artist/teacher spoke with a student, they would engage in a much richer, more powerful dialogue about what each was doing.
SOne of the things we know through research in education is that the arts not only provide "enrichment" to our children's curriculum, but they also have been actually proven to enhance the ability to learn, a phenomenon documented well by Richard J. Deasy, director of the Arts Education Partnership.
The students of Baltimore would benefit through this interaction and opportunity to work with artists. It is well known that music and math are related. Relationships between drawing and geometry, illustration and literature could be cultivated. Students would have an additional outlet for personal expression under the guidance of a mentor, and budget-strapped schools would get to reintegrate the arts back into the curriculum at no cost.
How would this opportunity for artists and students affect the community? In Richard Florida's The Rise of the Creative Class, he discusses the correlation between a city's economic development and its "creative class," arguing that communities that are attractive to the creative class are winning the economic development race:
The distinguishing characteristic of the creative class is that its members engage in work in which the function is to "create meaningful new forms." The super-creative core of this new class includes scientists and engineers, university professors, poets and novelists, artists, entertainers, actors, designers, and architects, as well as the "thought leadership" of modern society: nonfiction writers, editors, cultural figures, think-tank researchers, analysts, and other opinion-makers.
By fostering opportunities for Baltimore's creative class, we are engaging in a practice that also stimulates economic and social development for the city as a whole. The city would benefit by attracting creative talent and by engaging and inspiring our children. Two generations of creative class could be cultivated in Baltimore at once, each inspiring the other.
This effort does not need to end here. There are programs that already exist in Baltimore that support artists with opportunities for free or affordable work space, including the Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower, the Friends of the Arts in Baltimore, Load of Fun, and Creative Alliance, to name a few. These are exciting opportunities for artists, and we need more of them-a lot more.
For example, what if developers reserved a small amount of space in their buildings, just a few hundred square feet, for artist studios as part of the One Percent for Art initiative? What if corporations sponsored studio spaces as part of One Percent for Art in exchange for artwork? The artists would be able to develop a year's worth of work, and corporations would spend the same amount of money.
We cannot assume that there will be a surplus of space in the school system indefinitely (at least, we hope not), so developing additional programs for artists within the community is necessary. Imagine a city in which artists are working in schools and commercial buildings throughout the city, creating new bodies of work, bringing the arts into every community, and fostering the development of the creative class-sprinkling creativity, innovation, and economic development across the city.