- Brooke Collins/City of Chicago
- Just because Mayor Rahm says every public school student gets two hours of art each week doesn’t mean it’s true.
For the last few years, I’ve ripped various mayors over the city’s wretched efforts to bring art, music, and drama to Chicago’s public schools.
So imagine my surprise when I read that Mayor Emanuel was bragging about expanding art education so that every student in every public school now gets at least two hours of art education a week.
That’s the message the mayor conveyed at a Wednesday press conference featuring Yo-Yo Ma, one of the world’s great cellists, and Renée Fleming, the great soprano.
In a follow-up interview with the Tribune, the mayor went on and on about his valiant efforts to battle the bureaucracy to give arts to the children because he loves the arts almost as much as he loves the children.
Or as he put it, “Now we’re facing big budget challenges, but we’re not allowing the arts education to become a casualty. If anything we’re doubling down on it.”
I’m sorry, I can take no more. If you want to read more of the Tribune‘s interview, be my guest.
But please, don’t believe it.
First of all, the mayor hasn’t doubled down on the arts, he’s cut them. He fired at least 175 art or music teachers in his last round of teacher cuts. That’s different than his previous round of cuts, where he closed 50 schools.
As a result, the number of hours a student spends in art, music, and/or drama varies from school to school.
One thing’s for certain—there is most definitely no system-wide process in place to guarantee that all children get two hours of art a week.
It’s hit or miss based on a wide range of circumstances.
“Some kids in some schools may have two hours,” says Wendy Katten, director of the Raise Your Hand Coalition, the citywide parents’ group. “But it’s certainly not the norm. That’s for sure.”
For instance, at Burley, where Katten’s son goes to school, the students have art and music every week. But that’s not because of anything the mayor’s done.
It’s because the Friends of Burley have supplemented the mayor’s budget cut with their own fund-raising—passing the hat, so to speak, in order to pay for art and music.
“My son has art and music but it’s paid for by the parents—it’s not being provided by CPS,” says Katten. “Our school does the best job possible with the limited resources we have. If the mayor wants all children in CPS to have a rich arts curriculum he should increase the woefully inadequate per-pupil spending.”
CPS pays for art in other schools—like Dever on the northwest side. But the kids don’t always get two hours a week.
“We’re one of the lucky schools in that we ‘only’ lost about $200,000 in funding and we were able to keep our art teacher,” says Kerry Murphy, whose children attend Dever.
So, about once a week the children file into the art room for art?
“No—there is no art room because we’re overcrowded,” says Murphy. “So we have art on a cart. That’s where the art teacher puts her supplies on a cart and goes from classroom to classroom.”
That’s one art teacher for roughly 830 children, by the by.
Dever also has music on a cart, where the music teacher goes from room to room with instruments purchased by the PTA. So no thanks to Mayor Rahm.
On the bright side, I did find a school that has almost two hours of art a week: Mollison elementary on the south side.
“We have an art teacher,” says Jeanette Taylor, a member of Mollison’s LSC.
So, hallelujah, Mr. Mayor!
“But that’s no thanks to the mayor,” says Taylor. “We had an art teacher before Emanuel became mayor.”
You mean, your art world didn’t turn from dark to light upon Mayor Emanuel’s coronation?
“We’ve always had an art teacher,” says Taylor. “The mayor had nothing to do with that.”
While we’re on the subject—anything else you want the people to know about Mollison in the age of Mayor Emanuel?
“Our students eat lunch in the gym. We don’t have a lunchroom because we had to turn it into a classroom. We had to turn it into a classroom because we had 54 kids in one kindergarten class when the school year started. I told them, ‘You better fix this or I’m going to the news!'”
So, Ms. Taylor, if you had a message for Yo-Yo Ma, Renée Fleming, and any other artists who care about the kids in Chicago Public Schools, what would that be?
“This mayor hasn’t done anything except cause havoc and chaos by closing 50 schools!”
Something you’re not likely to hear in a mayoral press conference anytime soon.