A Picture Over Time with the NJ Arts Education Census Project

Shining a light on how things have changed in the field of arts education, for better or for worse.

By Susan Wallner

Students perform at the 2011 Governor’s Awards in Arts Education.
Every ten years, the national census makes news – how is America changing, what do we look like today? Beyond that, it has critical political implications, including how much money states and cities will receive for basic social services. In New Jersey in 2007, an arts education census was released that described what students were actually experiencing during the 2005-2006 school year. Did every child have an art class in elementary school? Was dance education available anywhere? Suddenly, the answers went from the realm of anecdote to the field of hard statistics – and soon these findings will become even richer as a second census taken in 2010-2011 shines a light on how things have changed in the field of arts education, for better or for worse.

The original census findings, Within Our Power: The Progress, Plight and Promise of Arts Education for Every Child, reported that more than 75,000 students had no access to arts education at all, and that 17% of high schools did not offer the minimum five-credit graduation requirement set by the state. There were high points as well: New Jersey’s standards for the Visual and Performing Arts were among the best in the nation, and most students across the state had access to at least music and the visual arts. The research also revealed that close connections between schools and community cultural resources were providing new and promising areas of opportunity for students.

The director of the Arts Education Census Project,* Bob Morrison of Quadrant Arts Education Research, describes the first survey as “a landmark document, and a catalyst, creating a new level of awareness across the state.” According to Morrison, the second census will give an unprecedented picture of arts education in a state over time. Did more students participate in arts classes? Are there fewer art teachers now? How did the volatile economic climate affect the quality of arts education in the state? As Morrison points out, “We cannot address inequities unless we know where and what they are.”

However, the curious will have to wait to see how their local schools stack up against the rest of the state. The survey has been completed – with over 99% of schools reporting – but the analysis has just begun. This census will for the first time include results from New Jersey’s charter schools as well. The statistical results and a plan of action based on the findings will be unveiled on May 10, 2012 in a ceremony at the War Memorial in Trenton. The pomp and circumstance is deserved – this census will provide a greater awareness of our progress towards meeting the goal of arts education for every child in New Jersey. Also on the program will be a ceremony for the student winners of the 2012 Governor’s Awards in Arts Education.


Watch a video of Amelia, one of the recipients of the 2011 Governor’s Awards in Arts Education.

*The Arts Education Census Project is a collaborative partnership between the New Jersey Department of Education, the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the New Jersey Arts Education Partnership, ArtPride New Jersey, and Quadrant Arts Education Research.

Susan Wallner is an award-winning producer with PCK Media. She is a long-time contributor to State of the Arts, now airing on NJTV Sundays at 10 am and 8 pm.