“Everyone likes the arts—people like the idea—but public support doesn’t equal political will,” says Craig Cheslog, principal advisor to Tom Torlakson, California’s superintendent of public instruction. For this reason, Cheslog, along with other California officials, including Gov. Jerry Brown, and organizations such as the California Arts Council, have joined together to form Create CA, an initiative to make arts education a priority.
Create CA began to form after California received a National Endowment for the Arts grant in 2011. The grant called for six representatives from the state to participate in a leadership institute in Chicago in May 2011. The group, which included Torlakson, Cheslog, other educators and a high school student, realized a larger coalition was needed to get arts education taken off the back burner in California.
“People don’t see the arts as a core part of learning,” says Cheslog. “They think it’s not going to help a student with their career or earn more money. It’s not true, however. Arts provide a deep engagement with 21st-century skills.”
Over the years, California—as with most states and districts—has cut funding to the arts due to severe budget pressures. In 2007, only 11 percent of California schools had a full arts education program. The numbers have dwindled even further since.
“We’re trying to engage people to see the economic advantages and rebuild what we’ve lost,” says Cheslog.
According to Cheslog, the political alignment in California makes this effort poised for success. For the first time in nearly 30 years, the governor, state board of education and state superintendent are all in agreement about the direction education should take.
Torlakson recently appointed a task force to develop a blueprint for creative schools by the end of 2012, when the new state legislature will be in place after the election. The task force will then present its findings next year. Cheslog says that Torlakson also wants to broaden school assessments to account for creativity.