Op-Ed | Arts funding saved my life. Other students should have the same access

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In January, Mayor Adams released his preliminary budget. Now, City Council Members are drafting their response to the Administration about what’s in and what’s out in the upcoming City budget. I have one ask for them as they negotiate the next fiscal year: don’t cut arts education and cultural funding.

Let me tell you why:

When I was seven years old, I lost my mother. It was incredibly difficult for me. The sadness and grief I felt weighed heavily on my heart. And then, at the age of 13, my father passed away. It was a devastating double blow that left me feeling completely lost.

For years, I struggled with depression and the weight of my grief after my mother’s death. But then, I discovered the arts. Whether through music, dance, theatre, and visual art, these creative outlets provided me with a safe space to express my emotions in a way that words could never.

At first, I wasn’t sure how to use my talents to cope with my pain. But, as time passed, I learned to pick up my pen and turn all my words into songs. With those songs, I used my voice and different pitches, melodies, and specific techniques to get the message across in a way that people can connect. Creating art inspired by my emotions was incredibly lifesaving. I have found a new way to process my grief, all while making beautiful and meaningful art.

The arts have an incredible power to transform lives by providing a platform for creative expression. Art widens our thinking, broadens our perspective, and enhances our understanding of the world. It is not just a hobby or a pastime but an integral part of learning that cannot be ignored.

Sadly, many schools in New York City face a severe lack of funding for arts programs. Currently, 17 percent of public schools do not have a certified arts teacher – meaning one teacher who is dedicated to just arts – in their schools. And students of color, like me, are significantly less likely than white students to have even taken an arts course in the 2021-22 school year, let alone have a dedicated arts teacher. That has resulted in a significant decline in arts education, leading to a generation of disenfranchised children from the wonders of creativity, expression, and imagination. It is a massive loss for our society and our future.

We must realize that the arts are not just about music or painting. They include various subjects such as drama, theater, dance and creative writing. Studies show that children who experience art education show better academic achievement, critical thinking skills, and overall well-being. For example, students who had intensive arts experiences in high school were three times more likely than students who lacked those experiences to earn a bachelor’s degree.

By increasing funding for arts programs in schools, we can provide a nurturing environment to enrich our further and educate students. That, in turn, will lead to better academic scores, a stronger community, and, ultimately, a better future.

I believe so strongly in the transformative powers of the arts. Whether we are facing heartbreak, or simply just living in the moment, the arts can help us find a way through. Art is all about creating something beautiful and unique – it’s about finding our own way to heal and move from one brushstroke, one lyric, one dance move or one line of poetry. Education is about more than just academics. It’s about nurturing and guiding our children to become well-rounded, creative, and imaginative individuals.

As New York City Council Members and the Administration debate the City budget, they must invest more money into school arts programs and cultural institutions. Both take a step toward creating a brighter and better future for all. The arts saved my life – we must let it save others too.

Richard Young Jr. a Sophomore at American University and NYC Public Schools graduate.