Against the backdrop of a slideshow featuring artwork by public school students and amid live student performances of music, dance and theater at a downtown Santa Fe museum, New Mexico Public Education Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski announced Tuesday new statewide arts education standards.

The state has adopted the National Core Arts Standards, Ruszkowski said, which cover dance, music, theater, visual arts and media. The change, he said, set to take effect in July, will ensure that public school students in grades K-12 have an opportunity to study at least one of the five disciplines.

And it allows educators teaching other subjects to weave those art elements into core classes, such as math, reading and social studies.

It’s the first time in nearly a decade that the state Public Education Department has made any changes to its arts curriculum guidelines and the first time in more than two decades that the guidelines have seen a major overhaul. The changes come as advocates increasingly tout the importance of arts on child development, while a heavier focus on math, reading and science have led many public school systems across the nation to cut back on their art programs.

In a state known for its cultural offerings and history, Ruszkowski told a crowd of about 100 people in the St. Francis Auditorium at the New Mexico Museum of Art, New Mexico’s new standards emphasize a need to teach and support the arts.

Adoption of the national arts standards followed a series of discussions involving arts educators from around the state, he said. “Everything that we are doing is based upon what we are hearing in the field.”

Ruszkowski referred to a 2014 report on the economic impact of the arts by The University of New Mexico’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research. According to the report, 43,000 New Mexicans work in arts- and culture-related industries — about the same number of residents in the state who work in construction.

“It’s a big deal,” he told the crowd.

A strong arts education is vital in preparing students for careers that exist in the state — particularly in growing areas like graphic design, game design, and video and film, Ruszkowski said.

A coalition of some 100 arts educators from around the country, supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, Americans for the Arts and the National Guild for Community Arts Education, developed the standards over several years. Since the group first published the guidelines in 2014, at least 15 states have adopted them.

A representative of the group, called the National Coalition for Core Arts Standards, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Under the standards, students must be able to not just perform but also create artistic ideas, refine their technique and evaluate art using a set of criteria. The guidelines lay out a series of lesson plans for teachers and students to follow year by year.

The national arts education standards are similar in many ways to the Next Generation Science Standards, a comprehensive and interactive national model for science education that New Mexico adopted last year.

Before adopting the popular national science standards, however, the education department initially tried to create its own set of standards, leaving out key concepts such as global warming and evolution. That effort drew widespread criticism. In the face of the fierce opposition, the state agency eventually yielded.



In contrast, the announcement of the arts standards met with applause Tuesday.

Leeane DeVane, music education coordinator for Santa Fe Public Schools, said the district’s music educators support the new standards, which emphasize “the artistic processes of creating, connecting and responding. … There is a greater focus on student independence, as contributors to their own learning process.”

Belinda Hardin, fine arts coordinator for the Lovington school district, offered similar comments. She said the new standards give teachers and students more freedom in tailoring a specific talent — say, playing the cello or painting with pastels — to an individual student.

The standards will help “the artist come from within the student,” Hardin said.

Tuesday’s announcement was unusual in that it spotlighted the talents of kids from around the state — from world-music drumming by Gallup students to songs by Lovington children and flamenco dancing by students from Tierra Adentro, an Albuquerque-based charter school focused on the arts.

The event concluded with an amusing and energetic stage performance based on the 1987 cult film The Princess Bride, performed by students at the New Mexico School for the Arts.

Contact Robert Nott at 505-986-3021 or rnott@sfnewmexican.com.

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