Creating art, creating citizens: An ethnography of arts education activism in New York City public schools

2005 2005

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Abstract (summary)

This dissertation looks at the efforts of arts education activists to give the arts a place of importance in New York City's public schools. The arts were eradicated from the city's budget during the 1970's fiscal crisis. To get them back required the development of new conceptions of art and arts education which would convince funders, politicians and education administrators that the arts were essential to every citizen's education.

This dissertation addresses the question "what is art?" through ethnography in the multiple and varied contexts in which "art" was debated and defined in arts education activism. This study fills a gap in social science literature that has rarely examined "art" outside of professional art worlds, and has explored the evolution of "art for art's sake" without considering the diversity of arts discourse.

Part One looks at the arts education "mission." The first chapter presents life story narratives of arts activists, establishing that arts activists view their work as a political, socially valuable alternative to working in professional art worlds. Chapter two presents basic premises, ideals and teaching practices of teaching artists in public schools, and situates the origins of their mission in the work of young artists in the early 1970's. The third chapter explores these themes in the training of art teachers.

Part Two examines the conditions and discourses in schools that activists negotiated through evolving advocacy efforts. It looks at the development of an arts education community among new employees at the Board of Education, and their efforts to create art programs through bureaucracy.

Part Three looks at how "school reform through the arts" played out in three schools. It demonstrates the richness and variation in arts education practice, including dimensions of art teaching that advocacy discourse does not capture. The final chapter examines the evolution of one school reform project over seven years to see how dramatic changes in the political climate and educational policy affected the role arts education played in schools.

Indexing (details)

Cultural anthropology;
Art education;
American studies
0326: Cultural anthropology
0273: Art education
0323: American studies
Identifier / keyword
Social sciences; Education; Activism; Arts education; Creating; New York City; Public schools
Creating art, creating citizens: An ethnography of arts education activism in New York City public schools
Fishman, Margaret Davis
Number of pages
Publication year
Degree date
School code
DAI-A 66/11, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
0542402890, 9780542402890
Myers, Fred
New York University
University location
United States -- New York
Source type
Dissertations & Theses
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL
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