By M Kutty, St. Andrews School, Honolulu, Hawaii
Receiving an arts education has been one of the most important experiences of my life. From learning confidence in my voice to enabling a sense of society and culture, the arts have allowed me to center my core identity. Being an artist in different fields, I have learned many lessons that helped me academically and personally and, at the same time, given me a more honest perspective on access and equality within the education system.
Living with my very academically-driven family, I often felt too much pressure to do well in content areas that I was not interested in, limiting my expectations of academic success. However, exploring myself as an artist and receiving an arts education gave me three important skills that helped me succeed in an academically challenging curriculum: one, being disciplined and responsible; two, having a sense of culture in multiple aspects of my life; and three, understanding how to socialize and speak in public. For many students, these skills are not easily mastered and the process of learning them through academic spaces can be intimidating, difficult, and unmotivating which, in turn, leads to poor academic performance.
As a student who has experienced those challenges, arts education has taught me to understand how I can use these traits to become my very best self—now and in the future. Growing up I never looked forward to going to school. I always wondered if the failure to live up to the standards of success in subjects that I had no interest in affected my achievement in areas that I was interested in. What’s more, the place where I felt like I could shine—the arts—was constantly being withheld from me. I started to question my abilities, talents, and what I had to offer the world.
Despite the challenge of getting an arts education, I continued to explore the arts. It was the best decision of my life. My arts experiences have led me to my true voice and the true me. From music, theatre, and videography, I have learned to be confident and to speak up. I now use my voice to explain who I am and my purpose in society, and to add creativity to all aspects of life. Arts education has also taught me to not wait for success to come to me but to work for it instead. Being an artist has helped me with interviews, leadership positions, public speaking, problem-solving, advocacy, and more. My arts education has also made me understand that it is okay to be vulnerable in a social setting, to make mistakes, and still learn something new.
As a student and artist in Hawaii, I have seen and experienced the devaluation of the arts within our schools. But really, school is the one place where the arts need to flourish and be available to every student. It’s the environment where students are most influenced and impacted. School is truly the place where they can discover who they are, where they come from, and where they are going; it provides the motivation to begin learning about their cultures and identities. Part of learning to understand self is learning to connect with those around you, those who are similar and different from you, those who live next to you and across the world from you. The arts do that better than any other subject.
This is true for all students. The disproportionate access to arts is one of the greatest inequities of our current education system. Every student needs to express their thoughts and feelings. Without the opportunity to do so through artistic expression denies them a way to share or experience stories about their lives and those of others. I want everyone to
experience art, regardless of their race, sexuality, gender, or financial status. We are all
artists. Even though the pandemic, arts education can and should provide students
opportunities, ideas, skills, outlets, and perspectives. They are our future, and they deserve everything we can give them.
Hear more from M Kutty in Episode 6 of the Arts ARE Education "Talk It Up" Podcast, featuring a panel of arts education students from around the country. Check it out!
M Kutty (she/they) is a senior at St. Andrew’s Schools— the Priory and holds the position as president of the International Thespian Society (ITS) Troupe 1993 as well as one of the two representatives for the Hawai’i Chapter for the ITS. They have been classically trained in piano, violin, and Bharatanatyam since a young age, but also enjoys the freedom of expression with visual arts, such as videography and studio art. Meenakshi is very much an advocate for arts education and access and uses her position as a student leader to advocate on behalf of the student voice.