By Rachel Scott, Chattanooga, TN—The University recently served as the location for a dialogue about how the arts can improve education and strengthen the community.

The University hosted the Arts and Education Partnership’s (AEP) 2012 National Fall Forum Sept. 13-14.

The theme for this fall’s forum was Arts Learning Without Borders, which focused primarily on education, Kim Alan Wheetley, executive director, Southeast Center for Education in the Arts, said.

He said that too often, school disciplines are sorted into their own separate subjects and it is creating a gap in student exposure to art education and creative learning.

The Chattanooga business community has told the University they are looking for employees with innovative, creative thinking and problem-solving skills that are can be attributed to an art-based integrative education.

“The forum tried to look at organizations to see where the arts were connecting with non-arts subjects to make alliances and partnerships that were stronger because they were together, than they would be apart,” Wheetley said. “Chattanooga has a great history of doing that. We were the armpit of the south 30 years ago, and today we are a renaissance city and continue to build on that momentum.”

He said the integration of the arts with businesses and technology is well underway, but is not progressing as quickly in schools.

Because of this, Arts and Education Partnership leaders said students are not receiving the knowledge or skills throughout the course of their education to adequately function, communicate, think, or create individually in the complicated, media-driven society we live in.

“Children start out elementary school with organized school days, but once you leave the school building you’re back into this really messy, unorganized thing we call real life where all of these things intersect each other,” Wheetley said. “It’s kind of a dysfunctional education system because you expect the kids to put all the pieces together and they don’t fit.”

The University is working to put those pieces together with the implementation of the Imagine Chattanooga 20/20 Plan which was created by Allied Arts to envision what the community might look like eight years from now.

One of the key components of the plan is to integrate art more thoroughly in the K-12 school system, he said.

There is a long way to go, but the University and Chattanooga have shown we can make that happen and take tangible steps towards the goals set in the plan, Wheetley said.

According to the Imagine Chattanooga 20/20 Steering Committee report, the plan is based on the community’s customs, beliefs, and traditions embodied in Chattanooga’s art and culture in areas expressive  of traditional, ethnic, and folk art, music and crafts; it also takes into account the history and heritage of our city and region, landmarks, parks, natural attractions, and the environment.

The University initiated an annual Arts & Education Forum in 2008 that is held each may, and focuses more on conversational exchange of ideas, problems, and successes so that we may learn from one another, Wheetley said.

Chuck Cantrell, associate vice chancellor for communication and marketing, said “it is important that the University fosters arts education, both on campus and off of it in the community.”

“We have many faculty members who are actively engaged in not only the arts council but other arts education in the community, and I think that supporting the arts is a primary focus of this University and it is important that we continue to do this,” he said.

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