Last year, if students in my art class finished their project early, they were told by our art teacher to grab used canvases covered with unwanted art and paint them over white.
Acrylic paints are commonly created to be unremovable and last a long time, so just resurfacing one canvas would take many layers to complete. The surface of a canvas affects the art drastically, and we did not have access to sanders or paint-removing alcohols, so the canvas was never “good as new.” But it stretched our supplies, and allowed a lot of students to keep painting on canvas the following year. Canvases were left used when the school year ended because students did not want to bring their artwork home.
Though this may seem a smart way to save money, it really showcases how desperate the visual arts in Durham schools are for better funding.
Most of the arts funding is paid through a combination of district and school funds. The art and CTE (Career Technical Education) program are the only programs with set budgets, and for visual arts, each teacher receives $2,500 combined in funds from both DPS and Riverside. Teachers use their budgets to pay for supplies, but materials can take weeks to ship and our teachers often pay for materials with their own money in order to get them sooner.
Using Durham Public Schools’ $18 million grant from Mackenzie Scott to increase funding for the arts would give high schoolers more opportunities to develop their knowledge and skills. The arts can help students with their social and emotional needs, not only as a creative outlet but also a resource to help students mentally. Art engagement has proven to lower the chances of developing mental illnesses and build students’ confidence and self worth, even if they don’t plan to pursue art beyond high school.
Additional funding would also address issues of equity. Art supplies are very expensive, so under-privileged students are unable to buy their own and, as a result, can’t thrive in advanced art classes that expect kids to buy their own tools. Most of the time teachers will allow students to borrow materials, but they are shared by all of the art classes and often worn. Many of the materials are damaged and borderline unusable.
Art is a pricey hobby to pursue, and classism is present within the DPS and broader community. No matter how talented you are as an artist, if you can’t afford the resources, your art will never look as good or reach its full potential and you are not receiving an equal opportunity.
Increased funding would also foster more inclusion and creativity. Once students complete beginning and intermediate art classes at Riverside, they need an art teacher’s recommendation to move up. Even if they pass with A’s and B’s, if their art doesn’t reach certain standards and expectations, opportunities to continue are limited.
This might seem cruel and strict on the surface but teachers aren’t given much of a choice. There are only two visual arts teachers within Riverside and they teach five different levels of art classes. The program is small and schools don’t have the resources or staff to continue to teach more than a select few. With funding, advanced classes and the process of getting into advanced classes would be less divisive for both students and teachers.
Supplies affect art tremendously and funding would benefit art education as a whole. Quality art supplies can be pricey, and underprivileged students need this funding in order to reach their full artistic potential.
This op-ed was previously published by Indy Week