Youth Access to the Arts

We envision a future where all youth have the opportunity to engage in and receive the benefits (academic, social, emotional, cultural) provided by the arts as an essential part of a well-rounded education.

Lead Guitar reaches students who would otherwise never have the opportunity to learn, create and experience the joy of making music.

The Lovell family has always known that engagement in the arts, especially for children, is essential to creating well-rounded citizens. So, for over 27 years, they have supported youth arts programs in the communities where they lived.  And we believe what science tells us – engagement in the arts is good for youth. Period! Consider this statement from The Arts and Dropout Prevention: The Power of The Arts to Engage:  

“After tracking more than 22,000 students for 12 years, the National Endowment for the Arts researchers found that students with high levels of involvement in the arts were five times more likely to graduate high school than those with low involvement in the arts. Moreover, students with low socioeconomic status who were deeply engaged in the arts demonstrated better academic outcomes than students from higher socioeconomic backgrounds who had less arts involvement.”

(Catterall et al., 2012)

Not only have scores of studies established the impact of arts on school engagement, academic performance, graduation rates, improved behavior, increased attendance in post-secondary education, and more success in attaining four-year degrees, but the studies have also established the positive links to social and emotional development. And after years of hearing the same from educators and arts advocates, the Federal government finally agreed by including “arts and music” in the definition of “a well-rounded education” in the passage of the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). If you are still a skeptic, visit  ArtsEdSearch | Arts in Education. The research can be summed up in the findings of “Arts education and positive youth development: Cognitive, behavioral, and social outcomes of adolescents who study the arts,” based on  several longitudinal studies (1984-2008) with tens of thousands of high school students: 

“The findings seen here provide much evidence for wide-ranging and long-lasting positive impacts of arts participation on adolescents and adults. Importantly, unlike many studies that focus only on academic outcomes, this study provides a more well-rounded picture of positive youth development that includes personal, social, and behavioral factors outside of standardized test scores. That these benefits were seen to extend into adulthood further illustrates the importance of providing children with opportunities for arts participation in school.”

So why do we still find ourselves in the situation where in Arizona’s 1,300 low socio-economic status schools, per-pupil spending in arts education is less than $1 a year? The short answer is priorities and credit. There is a chronic deficit between needs of students and the allocation of tax dollars available to our schools, and when schools must make tough choices, the arts continue to take a back seat because they are still seen as an “extra” in the eyes of many. Despite the emerging push to formally value arts proficiency (Arts-Seal-Guidance), until the arts are required credits for graduation, they are  unlikely to get adequately funded. The further tragedy is that the burden of choosing other school priorities over the arts falls heaviest on the poorest neighborhoods and predominately impacts children of color. Many well-resourced (non-Title 1) schools have arts programs funded by supplemental school foundations and/or relatively well-off students have parents who can afford extracurricular arts engagement throughout the school year and in the summer. In an ironic twist, more low-income students participate in the arts than their higher income peers, but they have less access overall to the arts. For more data on the arts in Arizona’s schools, see Arts Education Data Explorer | Arizona Commission on the Arts ( In dealing with COVID-19, this equity gap has become even more challenging by eliminating some of the opportunities that do exist and by creating additional barriers such as lack of transportation, inadequate or unaffordable technology, and weak or non-existent internet access in many rural and even some urban areas. For more information on the impacts of internet access, see the recent report from the COVID-19 Digital Access Task Force.  

One tangible policy consideration that would support student access and encourage participation in Arts courses would be for the State Board of Education to recognize the arts as part of the A-F school letter grade. When guidance counselors are charged with funneling students into courses that contribute more to the letter grade calculation, the arts will continue to suffer low enrollment, especially in Arizona high schools. Did you know Arizona State Statute requires that every K-8 grade student have access to two of the arts disciplines each year (music, theatre, dance, visual arts and media arts)? Sadly, only 61% of our schools and 79% of our students met this requirement. 

Some proactive schools and arts organizations are working together to use the millions of dollars available in Federal funding (Title IV is over $21,000,000 in Arizona in FY22) to fund arts programs. However, this requires willing school administrators, supportive teachers, cooperative community arts organizations, and advocates for the arts on school assessment committees. In essence, a local organizing effort is required to obtain, sustain, and maximize these resources, but one that many arts organizations might consider undertaking as a potentially sustainable source for youth arts programs while we continue to advocate for making art a requirement for graduation. 

Notwithstanding these complexities and challenges, the Lovell Foundation has attempted to identify some key efforts to support in the area of youth access to the arts – from traditional to innovative, local to national: Lead Guitar, Act One, and Mariachi Miracle

We invite you as supporters of Youth Access to the Arts to explore these and other efforts highlighted on our site to see if they might fit into your own personal or organizational philanthropic goals.