Thesis Update: The Influence of NYC School Principals’ Personal Beliefs on Art Education

My name is Leyla Monica Demirtas. I’m a graduate student in Art Education at The City College of New York. I have been an art teacher for over 25 years and at my present position since 1999. I now teach first through fifth grade students as well as nursery age to adult students in my business, Have Art Will Travel. I have been a professional artist since the 1970’s creating and selling my own art and commissions. I make my living entirely from my talents as an artist and art teacher. This had always been a dream of mine which came true in 1999.

The research I am doing for my thesis will hopefully answer a question that was raised in 1999 by an incident between a NYC principal and me. I’ll share the statement this principal made: “I don’t believe in art classes. The only reason I have them is because I am mandated by the City to have an on staff art teacher for all my students. Art serves no purpose to my student population. If I were given the choice I would not have art. I have students who don’t even know how to read so art is stupid and a waste of time. None of them are going to go into a career as an artist and there is no money in the arts. I need to get these kids literate and hopefully employed. I will not give you a room or money for supplies. You will have to travel from room to room…so do you want the job?”

Happily in the years since, I have worked with principals who don’t have these beliefs. I feel very lucky to have the principals in my present position who believe in the arts. However, in experience this is not the norm. As an art teacher I have been saddened and angered by these beliefs by people in power, especially principals. I have also seen how these beliefs, good or bad, have dictated how much or how little art will be programmed into schools. In addition, if art teachers will keep or lose her/his job. Is it the lack of education on the part of the principals concerning the arts or not or are the factors more complex. Therefore, through my research, I am looking to find out if a principal’s personal beliefs contribute to art programming at their school. And if so, are there ways that these beliefs can be changed?

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