On the occasion of the 125th anniversary of the founding of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, President Alison Hymas invited Gilles Paquet, President of the RSC, to collaborate in preparing a joint project which would express their shared concern over the declining role of the arts as a vehicle for teaching in Canadian public schools and at institutions of higher learning. In response, and driven by a desire to explore the potential leverage from uniting the two academies behind a single initiative, the two presidents appointed a small team of their respective academy members and friends to assemble a brief document which would be the focus of a symposium on the subject at the RCA’s Annual General Assembly.
It was agreed that the on-going initiative should be designed to support the preparation of a concise but powerful public policy recommendation from the leaders of Canada’s two senior national academies. The target audience would be the federal, provincial, territorial and municipal leaders who determine the country’s education priorities and the curricula of studies for young Canadians. The eventual joint declaration would become a plea for those policy makers to “take into account what we already know” about the role of arts as a facilitator for learning, for teaching and for instilling in young citizens the work habits, the varied perspectives and the values which experience shows are under-represented in so many of Canada’s contemporary academic programmes.
The preparatory paper
What we know
As starting point for the discussions at the symposium, the preparatory paper came up with the following five points regarding “what we already know” about the role of arts in education:
1. the teaching of visual, auditory and manual skills sets is an key component in the education of young citizens whatever their academic and career interests;
2. generating rigorous work habits and habits of creativity and innovation in young people is an essential priority for the maximization of their potential. This can often be done best through the development of artistic and manual skills;
3. notions of excellence and professionalism are often best communicated and taught through programmes which capitalize on the experiential learning techniques employed for learning the visual arts, music, trade crafts, sports;
4. arts education has a drawing power for enticing the many youngsters who are turned away by an exclusive focus in schools on traditional academic skills, to continue their education through study and training options which are either not currently accessible or are too often treated as “second-class”;
5. school drop-out rates across all of Canada’s provinces and regions signal a failure of our education systems to prepare a large portion of students for lives and careers as successful and fulfilled citizens.