Cultural Diversity and Inclusion in the Arts in New York State’s Southern Tier
If one has a music degree but has not majored in music education, finding places that appreciate the arts, need your services and will provide you with a salary and benefits can be an interesting journey. There are many places that have the need for some type of music and art programs but, not all recognize the need or see it as a high priority. Many private art or music schools are not able to offer a 40 hour work week and benefits.
Outside of public schools, there are facilities or organizations that assist needy segments of the general population in realising their full potential. The idea is that these people can either continue to be, again become or for the first time become, a recognized and contributing part of society. Many recognize the arts as an important part of making this happen.
As far as working in a music program, my (non-music education) music degree has taken me to public schools (as a substitute teacher and pit orchestra player), psychiatric centers, children’s day care, a state prison, skilled nursing units, long-term care facilities and organisations that assist the developmentally disabled population. Of these, only public schools appear to mandate music and art programs from the highest levels (though as far as resources go, the level of importance placed on music and arts is sometimes questionable). The music programs in New York State prisons were discontinued in the early 90’s and to my knowledge have not resumed. The thought at the time appeared to be, “if the public schools are cutting back, why are we financing programs for inmates”? “Lets not coddle these people”.
In the 1980’s, working with a recreation department manager at a psychiatric center, I volunteered to provide a music program for their children and youth unit. My hope was that the managers would recognise the success of the program and would provide the resources for their own program. The importance was recognized at certain levels but resources were not made available. (This did result in me being hired as a Recreation Leader in a skilled nursing unit a few years later). At skilled nursing or long-term care facilities, the music programs are often a small part of a larger recreation or activities program. Musicians are often hired or volunteer to perform occasionally because it is not in budgets to have someone on the payroll providing a regular music or art program. Some facilities may hire an employee for art but not have a music program. This is the case with the psychiatric center I referred to. It is a similar situation in children’s daycare or preschool. There is often no one person specifically hired to provide regular music programs.
These non-school organizations or facilities often provide some resources to facilitate programs in music and the arts but, it is often up to the local leadership of these organizations to recognize the need and make the arts a priority. It may be a large portion of time and resources at one facility and non-existent in another.
This can be slightly precarious for the person who is heading these art programs and the people in the programs. If there is a sudden change in leadership, the entire program could be done away with if the new leadership does not understand the importance of the art programs. There are people in management positions that feel the results of the arts programs are not tangible or that there are higher priorities for their resources.
Art itself is interpretive but the idea of whether to offer or require art programs is not. The question should be, how good are your arts programs? Not, do you offer any art programs? Fortunately, I have had a great deal of support for music programs as I have ventured outside of the performing and private lesson aspect of my work. There have been times when I have dealt with managers that had little understanding or appreciation for the arts but that has been infrequent.
Artists should always be accessible to people. We need to be ready at a moments notice to “convert” people who may not understand the need for the arts. Any question is a good question because it shows some interest or curiosity. Instead of frustration at having to explain ourselves or something that seems so obvious, it must be looked at as a teaching moment.
I am currently working with an agency that assists developmentally disabled adults. This agency makes the arts a priority. Here, the arts are used therapeutically, to foster self-expression, as a training tool, as entertainment or for leisure and, as a tool to facilitate community inclusion. The finding here is that the arts are useful in many ways and the programs work.
Music and music programs are needed and useful in may situations from birth through the end of life. There is nothing that facilitates “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” more than music and the arts. I hope more agencies, organisations and companies begin to realise this and provide the resources needed to develop programs in music and the arts.