In an epic WTF failure of the modern education system, only one-third of Oregon public schools provide coursework in the visual arts. This in spite of compelling evidence that arts education increases academic performance, motivation and social and critical thinking skills—skills like self-expression, creativity and patience, which are particularly significant for nontraditional students, like those who attend Marshall, Bend's second-chance high school.
Many Marshall students land there because they have failed out of or been expelled from one of the other three area high schools. The students often face challenges that others their age don't; homelessness, poverty and rough home lives are not out of the ordinary for the student body.
Enter: the Arts. Three years ago, longtime arts educator Marcy Monte was hired part-time in the hope that an arts program at Marshall would boost student attendance. And it's working!
Teaching these kids is Monte's passion. She says the work is rewarding because the impact is so measurable in at-risk students.
"I see kids struggling with confidence," said Monte. "Once you get past the curriculum, art is about believing in yourself."
A 2012 study conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts found that students who participated in arts programs were likely to have higher GPAs, higher graduation rates and better critical thinking skills.
"Art works," is the first line of the introduction to the report by Rocco Landesman, who concluded his tenure as chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts last year. Unsurprisingly, the students in art class at Marshall say the NEA findings ring true.
"It's my favorite class," said 17-year-old Erika Arbak, who has been taking art at Marshall for two years. "I have bad anxiety, and art was the only thing I could focus my energy on. I don't think I would have made it without the art classes. It got me through the day."
"Some of the students only come for art class," said Callie Browning, 16. "Without it, things would fall apart."
Not only is the art program getting students in their seats, but it's providing a much-needed confidence boost.
"It's not technically art therapy, but it is. It gives them a chance to experience success and to get positive feedback," explained Kelly Anthony, an educational assistant at Marshall. "For some of them, this is the first time they get to do that."
Yet, in spite of success stories, the program, like so many across the nation, is struggling to meet its most elementary needs.
"We barely have the basics," Monte explained. "I just wrote a grant for tables because the ones we have are terrible—they're uneven." With a wink, she added, "but I'm a scavenger."
On Friday, Marshall will host its third Art Rent, a program through which community members can "check out" framed artworks from Marshall's student gallery for up to a year. At the end of the contract, each work of art is returned to its creator framed as a thank you. Proceeds from the rental fees support Marshall's art program. SW
Marshall High School Art Rental
Friday, May 31
Marshall High School Cafeteria, 1291 NE 5th St.
Rentals start at $10 a month.