Art can fall through the cracks, it can get lost somewhere between STEM curriculum and the focus on standardized tests. But its importance to the development a culture — or individual — can’t be underestimated. Some students are meant to be scientists, others sculptors, and our educational system should reflect that; And race shouldn’t not be an inhibiting factor on the path toward art.
Black Art Student Empowerment, or B.A.S.E, at VCU is a new student organization on campus whose “purpose is to develop potential, foster creativity, advance the awareness of Black artistic ability, preserve Black cultural heritage, and enhance the interactions among diverse groups in the community.”
I decided to join this group because I see writing as my art form, my form of expression. Whether poetry or prose, the things I wish to be heard for, are easier written than spoken. But people don’t just read my written words, they read words written by the hand of a black, educated woman. I empathize with the artists of this group because like most, all people see first is your skin.
People don’t expect the things you do, say, write, or draw to be in line with the “characteristics” of being black. Most of the grievances from my peers were trying to separate from, but also be apart of, the caste of a black artist. Some define themselves as being a “black artist” because they do black art work, while others try to separate the two by being an artist who happens to be black.
As individuals, we should be able to fall under multiple categories and not have to decide on whether one category will give us leverage over the other — or hinder the other. It comes back to being taken seriously in the eyes of society. When people tell you you can’t, your greatest mission should be to show them you can. It’s one thing to be told not to endeavor in the arts because there is no money in the profession, but it is another when you are black and being judged based on your race rather than your work.
B.A.S.E is on a mission to not only unite black artists, but all the departments in the School of the Arts. There is not much support from one department to the next nor is there support from teachers or staff. Many members feel as though the necessary funding and support they need to succeed as artists are not adequately provided by VCU.
Federal funding for arts programs have been increasingly cut over the years with funding for the arts and humanities programs at $250 million a year, while the National Science Foundation is funded around the $5 billion mark. According to Dosomething.org, music programs are constantly in danger of being cut from shrinking school budgets even though they’re proven to improve academics.
The No Child Left Behind Act in 2001 mandated “The Arts” — music, art, foreign language, etc.– as a core academic subject. New brain research shows that not only does learning in music and theater correlate strongly with higher achievement in both math and reading, but it promotes creativity, social development, personality adjustment and self-worth.
But The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001– the update of the 1965 Elementary & Secondary Education Act — expired in September 2007. In 2010, the administration offered an introductory reauthorization proposal called the “Blueprint,” and is now administering a process for states to receive waivers to remove much of the onerous No Child Left Behind (NCLB) regulations in exchange for taking specific policy steps.
There are multiple organizations and campaigns attempting to bring back funding and programs to support the Arts and B.A.S.E at VCU is one of them. The organization has stated that, “BASE will support the connection between people and the arts, commit to the value of the inner city/ surrounding VCU communities, provide space for reflection upon and constructive criticism of black art, be a catalyst for transformative experiences through black art and empower and unify black artists across all of the departments in the School of the Arts.”
This black student organization emphasizes the importance of being an artist and being acknowledged as such. Members come together to discuss the issues they face as black artists and how they wish to be seen as artists. The upcoming showcase themed “Justice or Else” on Nov. 20, will be an extravagant event in attempt to connect artists to the community as well as showcase the importance of arts programs in schools.
Opinion Editor, Monica Houston
Monica is a transfer student from Norfolk State University studying English. Her dog, Furby, is an in-office celebrity and frequently attends production and meetings with Monica.