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Changing Culture of Arts Education in the 21st Century

In the last 25 years, globalization and technological advancements have brought tremendous changes to every field of human endeavors. For the arts, the challenge of adapting to these changes is significant, but so is an opportunity to discover new ways of creating meaning in the lives of artists and the communities they serve.

In the last few years, conservatories, as well as schools of art in colleges and universities, have been experimenting with ways of addressing an increasing uncertainty of the future career paths of their graduates. There is a considerable pressure from those who question the practical utility of arts education, as well as those who wish to see more emphasis on training artists as active citizens using their skills to represent certain groups and amplify specific messages. There are many teachers and administrators in the field who are much more qualified than I am to suggest possible changes to educational model for artists in the 21st century.

That said, after 25 years of working in the field of classical music as a performer, educator, presenter and administrator within two very different cultures in the Soviet Union and the United States, I have developed a sense that the future of the arts in society will largely depend on the personal agency of artists making a strong case for the relevance of what they do to contemporary experience.

Making that clearly a part of a professional artist’s mission within the arts educational system and fostering a culture celebrating not only artistic excellence but success in cultivating enthusiastic support for the art forms needs to become a priority. This could start with art and music students reaching out to their peers majoring in business, science and other disciplines. These interactions could provide extremely valuable learning opportunities to both groups.

For aspiring artists having to make a compelling case for arts’ relevance to artistically uninformed contemporary younger audiences can bring into a greater focus their own reasons for championing work of art or an art form. It can also lead to a paradigm shift in a relationship with a familiar work and thediscovery of fresh insights.

For students pursuing other majors, encounters with the vitality, enthusiasm and mastery of young artists can lead to formative experiences and increased appreciation of art as a fundamental part of humanity.

While trying to support this type of initiative, music and art schools need to be mindful that an active advocacy in any field tends to immediately attract articulate and enthusiastic extroverts, while some of the best work in both arts and sciences is often produced by thoughtful and quiet introverts.

In leading efforts to cultivate future communities of art and music lovers, schools need to take special care in making sure that enough opportunities are created for quiet voices to be included in the conversation.

I believe this work can lead schools to a better understanding of changing perspectives on art in a generation shaped by the marginalization of artistic achievements in our society, as well as by the segmentation of shared cultural references into increasingly smaller groups. This is crucial to connecting the arts’ glorious past to a future where generations of artists and audiences continue to engage with it in meaningful ways.


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