NJ arts education survived COVID, with dance and theater thriving

When the organization now called Arts Ed NJ first surveyed New Jersey schools about their dance, music, theater and visual arts offerings in 2006, 77,000 Garden State students did not have access to adequate programs in these disciplines.

In a decade and a half, that number has been reduced by 90% to around 7,000, according to Arts Ed NJ executive director Bob Morrison, analyzing the results of the group’s latest report, “The Resilience of Arts Ed Now: Beyond the Pandemic”. “

This most recent study, through 2021, looked back over five years, including the first two years of learning impacted by COVID-19.

Morrison acknowledged that the pandemic has changed the way students participate in arts programs, as it has for all types of education.

But in the Garden State at least, these students remained engaged in the arts, if not more involved.

“In the state of New Jersey, students are expected to have access to dance, music, theater and visual arts,” Morrison said.

Two of those four, music and the visual arts, are what usually come to people’s minds first in this regard, according to Morrison, but dance and theater are catching up.

To put some numbers behind this, Arts Ed NJ found that looking only at schools that offered dance, there was now a 30% attendance rate, and that of the only schools that offered drama, attendance of students was 18%.

These may seem like small numbers, but Morrison said they reflect a big change.

“There has been significant growth in these areas over the past five years, and I think that’s really something to celebrate,” he said.

In total, Morrison said the survey showed that 76% of New Jersey students are now enjoying some sort of arts program at school.

Maintaining a strong performance in the arts has never been about a lack of interest in New Jersey, he said, just a lack of opportunity — until very recently.

“Over one million students attend our arts education programs and that number, when we look at similar numbers across the country, is very high,” Morrison said.

There are concerns and areas for improvement that Morrison identified, primarily in providing greater equity regardless of a school’s, district’s or municipality’s economic status.

Additionally, while Morrison said New Jersey’s colleges are producing certified dance and theater instructors to lead new or enhanced programs, he expects ongoing COVID worker shortages to continue. extend to these disciplines.

“I think it would be misleading to think that these shortages won’t impact arts education in the same way they affect other fields,” he said.

Yet, with spending per student on the arts rising at all grade levels, the future looks bright.

For the full report, click here.

Patrick Lavery is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at [email protected]

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