Guest Post – Media and Arts Education

Women's Choir  As part of my series on music education in schools, I have a guest post, written by one of our local music educators.  Kris Engstrom is the choral director at Billinghurst Middle School here in Reno, and supports many of the areas’ music programs.  She also advocates for music education in schools, and recently wrote an op-ed for the Reno Gazette-Journal.  The piece centers around the idea of media coverage for arts and musical events, in an effort to increase the exposure and publicity for schools and their arts programs.

I have a question for the local media that has been on my mind for the past few years. It was brought to the forefront once again recently, when the local newspapers and TV stations failed to offer any coverage or PR to Reed High School for their outstanding musical production of “Aida.” The show information was submitted on time to the newspapers, but ignored. After seeing no coverage for the first weekend of the show’s run, contact was made to “educational writers” for several papers, with no results, or in one case even a response. When TV media outlets were asked to promote the show, the response was that it couldn’t be done unless it was a fundraiser. (The only media outlet that helped promote “Aida” was our local public radio station.) Are there any public school events that are not fundraising for the existence of the program to continue? All of the high school sporting events charge money for fans to attend, and yet, they are promoted.

What does a producer of a school musical or director of a musical ensemble need to do in order to get a bit of attention for his students? How is it that some schools get an occasional bit of coverage, and most others get ignored? The bigger question is, why is it that high school sports teams and events get automatically covered on a daily basis, and not the Performing Arts? A response from one staff member at a local paper was to contact a certain person (which changes from year to year, production to production) and be persistent in asking for a story. The “squeaky wheel” philosophy is not the solution to this problem.

One might argue that sporting events serve more people’s interests in the community, but I would challenge that the number of students, families, and audience members involved in a musical production is far more than a baseball or softball game or wrestling match. I am not anti-sports, as my daughters were all athletes in school (two played softball at the high school and tournament levels and one was a Nevada state championship swimmer and swam on scholarship at Northwestern University.) I am in no way trying to lessen any attention or enthusiasm for sports coverage in the media. Kudos to all of the outstanding high school athletes who are chosen to receive the full-page photos and stories in the local paper and other media outlets. There is a problem, however, in the extreme inequity of media coverage of sports vs. the performing arts and many other student events and success in local media. It is clearly a flaw in our community, and perhaps our society.

Why is it that sports are given complete attention, while the good work of students who work together as teams to produce a musical production that features singers, actors, dancers, and technical crews do not get the same? There is a Sports section in all newspapers, and it covers national, state, community and schools sports. Yet, the Arts-Entertainment sections of newspapers only feature entertainment news of movies and star-studded actors and entertainers, local rock or punk bands and concerts at bars, stories of professional musicians working shows at local venues, and occasional stories about local community theater. Why is it not just as important to cover the performing arts in the schools, both at the district and university levels? Entertainment value? Community interest? Quality of performance? Ask any patron who did go see “Aida” at Reed High School, or the Madrigal Dinner at McQueen High School, or the orchestra concert or opera at UNR, or any of the many plays, concerts or programs at any of the schools. They will wholeheartedly agree that these events are worthy of media attention.

Wouldn’t it be logical to have a place for local school performing arts events to be featured? Could we see stories about those students who excel in their art, or the marching band winning a contest, or the Jazz band being selected to play as a feature band at a festival? Can the media do more than an occasional story about those one or two chosen high schools that are putting on a musical? Why not have a listing of the productions, concerts and festivals that are happening on a weekly basis, just as the schedule of high school competitions are listed five to six times a week? Why not have a featured musician or actor every week like we do athletes? Who are the WCSD students in the arts that are getting accepted to and awarded scholarships from colleges? Why not a story of those bands and choirs and dramatic teams who compete in festivals all over the country?

Our country is a society that focuses on sports. It seems that many of us have accepted this fact as “the way it is and always will be.” But is the community interest in sports that much more than interest in the arts, or does the media make it a bigger story so that it becomes a bigger story? I would venture to guess that there are actually more students in WCSD involved in the Performing Arts than there are in the athletic teams. There is no need to lessen any attention to athletics, but let’s see some equality in the media coverage.

We will explore Kris’ points in our next blog post.  What do you think?  Any opinions or thoughts on this?  How can media coverage (for better or worse) affect your program?

Photo credit: Hawaii Women’s Conference

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One thought on “Guest Post – Media and Arts Education

  1. Laura Watkins

    Kris did an outstanding job speaking for the students, parents, spectators and educators in the arts. We should also add that The Washoe County School District Music Department has won national awards for excellence in education for the last several years. When budget cuts endangered our music department the community came out in support of music in our schools. Every student is touched by music and the arts. Many excell in their art and deserve to be recognized.

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