#WeAllDeserveArts: Kelly Fey Bolender – Arts Education Program Manager, AFTA

August 21, 2020

Arts education is a civil right. It is a human’s right for expression, for creation, for community, for cultural development, for humanity. It is our responsibility to protect that right and ensure access to and participation in arts education for all students. Over 100 national arts and education organizations signed onto a collective statement affirming the charge that arts education is essential for all students and urging local education leaders to maintain or increase access to arts education in this time of critical need for students.

However, arts educators across the country are experiencing cuts to their programs and positions as district leaders contend with reduced budgets and growing financial pressures. This occurs despite the fact that the arts are considered a core component of a well-rounded education, as defined in the Every Student Succeeds Act. These cuts ignore an overwhelming public will for arts education, in that 91% of the American population agree that the arts are an essential part of a quality education.

These cuts are only the beginning. The Learning Policy Institute estimates a 15% reduction in teaching jobs, as state budgets shrink with lowered tax revenue due to the pandemic. Arts education advocates anticipate that arts educators and their programs will bear a large brunt of these cuts, as we saw happen during the Great Recession. It is also likely that low-income communities and students of color will experience even deeper inequities in access to arts education than currently exist.

We are approaching an overwhelming start to an unprecedented school year. It is challenging to look beyond this moment, with so much uncertainty weighing on the future of our education system. The need for advocacy in arts education, though, is both immediate and long term.

Advocates should continue to fight for reliable access to the arts this school year, with calls for investments in digital technology, broadband access for all, and supports for educators to provide virtual learning in the arts. But we should not lose sight of the upcoming budget challenges beyond this school year. It is imperative that advocates prepare to work with local and state leaders over the duration of this school year to protect and expand access to arts education for the benefit of all students.

As a former Maryland public school student, it was access to the arts in my schools and community that transformed my life. As the parent of two current Maryland public school students, it is my imperative to support AEMS and arts education advocates across the state of Maryland to ensure that all children have equitable access to the arts. Because an education without the arts is not enough.


Kelly Fey Bolender currently serves as Arts Education Program Manager for Americans for the Arts. In this role, she manages several member networks and special projects, supports strategic partnerships, and advocates for equitable policy and systems changes related to the advancement of arts education.

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