Lawmakers, artists and educators are calling on Mayor Eric Adams to boost funding for arts in schools, arguing the pandemic has made it even more vital for students to be able to express themselves through dance, music and visual art. 

Last summer, the Department of Education recommended principals allocate $79.62 per student on arts programming. But the per-pupil funding is not required; principals can allocate those funds as they see fit. Many administrators enthusiastically devote those resources to the arts, but some don’t. 

According to the NYC Arts in Education Roundtable, 67% of principals said arts funding is insufficient. 

Now, New York City Council members want to see the arts funding increased to $100 per pupil, and they want the funding to be dedicated to the arts, not simply recommended. In their formal response to the mayor’s budget, Council members said the city should dedicate a portion of remaining federal stimulus money to help boost funds for arts education. 

“No exaggeration, the three chords I learned at McKinley Junior High School took me around the world as a professional musician,” said Council Member Justin Brannan, who chairs the finance committee and was a touring hardcore punk musician before entering politics. “We must end the era of art and music being viewed as ‘extra’ instead of essential instruction. … All New York City public school students deserve a high-quality education with a robust in-house arts and music curriculum.” 

Advocates said the investment is more crucial than ever. 

Kimberly Olsen, executive director of the NYC Arts in Education Roundtable, said she has always believed fervently in the power of the arts to engage students, but said the arts have become a lifeline during the pandemic. 

Olsen, a special education teacher in a District 75 school, produced a virtual musical starring her Brownsville students in spring of 2020. She noticed that even students who had been chronically absent from their academic classes showed up for online rehearsals. 

“Students would pop up on the zoom screen and it was like ‘Oh my goodness we haven’t seen you in a couple weeks!” she said. 

Now that schools are back in person, Olsen said she’s noticed students who became painfully shy during the pandemic are finding their voices as performers.

“Kids who were reluctant to speak in a group are now doing so on stage,” she said. “We’re seeing students come out of shells.”

Advocates emphasize that arts programming in schools doesn’t just benefit students, it supports the city’s broader ecosystem of musicians, performers and visual artists, thousands of whom earn a living through their work as teaching artists in schools. 

Meanwhile, advocates say, the partnerships between many cultural organizations and schools benefit both, and city funding is crucial to maintain those connections. 

At a council hearing Tuesday, education department Chief Financial Officer Lindsey Oates said the agency is reviewing the Council’s proposal and added it has prioritized the arts, including requiring a portion of federal stimulus funding to be put towards arts programming in schools.  

Education department officials said the city spent $400 million on arts in schools this past year.  

“As we emerge from the pandemic, the arts are a critically important outlet of expression, connection, and healing for our young people,” said department spokesperson Jenna Lyle. “We look forward to continuing to prioritize arts education across all NYC zip codes.”