Arts Education an Operatic Tragedy

Believe it or not, this Saturday the Pittsburgh Opera is planning to honor Gov. Corbett with a lifetime achievement award for his contributions to … wait for it … EDUCATION! I kid you not. The Opera announced that Corbett “will be honored for his early work as a teacher as well as his long-standing protection of the public interest” and that, “as Governor, he has recognized the economic, educational, and social value of the arts.”

Is the Opera so out of touch that it doesn’t realize Gov. Corbett has actually devastated public education, cutting $1 BILLION from Pennsylvania’s schools these past two years? These cuts have crippled local school districts, which have been forced to slash arts education.

The Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators and the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials conducted a survey of the impact of those cuts last fall and found that 44% of the state’s school districts have already eliminated courses — the first to go? Arts, music, and foreign languages. The very things students need to become educated citizens who will appreciate the arts, be patrons of the arts, and become future artists themselves.

Last week, 1,000 people gathered in Upper Darby, outside of Philadelphia, to protest the state cuts that have forced that district to eliminate all elementary arts and music programming, as well as foreign languages in the middle schools. This is Gov. Corbett’s true legacy in the arts.

And look at what is happening right here in Pittsburgh: our flagship arts school, CAPA, is cutting private music lessons. Taylor Allderdice is laying off its marching band director. Elementary schools across the district are losing music, art, library, and language instruction. How in the world are our kids going to become opera lovers?

Public education is a public good. But Governor Corbett is trying to privatize public education through vouchers and tax credits (which funnel public money into private schools) and the loosening of charter school regulations. Gov. Corbett has clearly lost touch with the reality of Pennsylvania’s schools: for the Opera to salute his “exceptional career as public servant for the good of Western Pennsylvania and the Commonwealth” is a cruel farce.

It’s also farcical to hear the Opera and Gov. Corbett himself touting his credentials as a former teacher. He taught High School for one year in the Pine Grove Area School District out in Schuylkill County. That school district, by the way, has lost $1.1 MILLION in education cuts these past two years.

The de-funding of public education in Pennsylvania is a tragedy of operatic proportions. Instead of celebrating Gov. Corbett, the Pittsburgh Opera ought to stage The Beggars Opera to recognize how public schools have become beggars, hoping to salvage their arts curriculum with donations. That opera is an 18th century classic still popular today for its themes of political corruption and poverty. Sounds just right.

A Call to Action

So here’s what you can do. Plan to attend an “Operatic Rally” organized by our friends at OnePittsburgh on Saturday at 6PM outside the Opera’s headquarters in the Strip District, where they will be hosting Gov. Corbett. This will be a super fun event with people dressed in opera costumes, activities for kids, and lots of student performing arts groups.

But let’s also take advantage of this fantastic opportunity this week to let people know about the real impact of state cuts on our schools. Please pick two, three, or more of these easy things (then report back to the Harrisburg Strategy google group to let everyone know how it’s going):

  1. Post on the Opera’s Facebook page. Feel free to copy and past this message or write your own:
    “It’s outrageous that the Pittsburgh Opera is honoring Gov. Corbett for his contributions to arts education, when he has cut $1 BILLION from Pennsylvania’s public schools. Districts across the state have slashed arts education under his watch. Right here in Pittsburgh, our students are losing art, music, library, and foreign language instruction. How are they going to be future artists and opera lovers? We need equitable and sustainable state funding for public education, not phony awards for Governors who devastate our children’s future.”
  2. Send a message to your networks using Facebook, Twitter, and email and ask people to forward the message along.
  3. Send a message to the Opera’s key decision makers:
  4. Call the Opera: 412-281-0912 x261
  5. Write a letter to the editor. (Click here for guidelines and contact info for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Tribune Review, and see our media guide for other regional newspapers.)
  6. Send a message to any other members you know of the Pittsburgh Opera Board of Directors. These are the folks who are responsible for the decision to honor Gov. Corbett for his “contributions” to education. Here’s the full list:

Christopher Hahn, General Director
Michele Fabrizi, Chair of the Board
John E. Traina, President of the Board
Robert C. Denove, Treasurer of the Board
Alvin W. Filstrup, Ph.D., Secretary of the Board

Michele Atkins
Nadine E. Bognar G.
Andrew Bonnewell Kenneth S. Brand
Robert N. Brand
Robert G. Brown Frank McD.
Fischer Jean
Anne Hattler, Ph.D.
Clyde B. Jones, III
Richard A. Pagliari
Mary Anne Papale
Demetrios T. Patrinos
Ellen A. Roth, Ph.D.
David Savard
Gene Sachs Smith
William M. Swartz, MD
Nancy Traina
H. Woodruff Turner, Esq.
Gene Welsh
George R. White, Ph.D.*

James R. Agras Francois J. Bitz
Marilyn Bruschi
Maryann DePalma Burnett
Lisa M. Cibik, MD
Frank J. Clements. Esq.
J. Alan Crittenden, Esq.
Mark S. Daday
Virginia DiPucci
Ann Dugan
Debora S. Foster
James H. Frey
Anna P. Futrell
Rick Gabbianelli
Peter J. Germain
Paul J. Gitnik
Charles H. Harff


Update: May 14, 2012

This action continues to go viral! Over 14,000 people read this blog piece in just a few days, launching a social media firestorm and garnering national media coverage. It has been published in the Huffington Post and newspapers coast-to-coast have carried the story, from the San Francisco Chronicle to the Philadelphia Inquirer (see “…Until the Fat Lady Sings“). Over 300 people attended the Operatic Rally on Saturday, May 12, 2012, which also received widespread press coverage (see “Encore! Encore!” which includes lots of pictures). This story of the gutting of arts education has struck a powerful nerve because it speaks to the connection between state budget cuts and what is really happening in our schools. Pennsylvania is sending the message loud and clear: we need adequate, equitable, and sustainable public funding for public education.

33 thoughts on “Arts Education an Operatic Tragedy

  1. Just found this blog but I will be back. The political connections reflected here are the same ones are actively working to redefine what “arts education” is in our schools.

    • Welcome, Rick! You might like to poke around “The Facts” tab to see all of the issues we have covered, from the proposed budget, to misconceptions about it, to state revenue ideas, and the larger campaign to privatize public education here and around the country.

  2. I feel your pain. Wish I could back in my hometown for this one but I’ll teach in Maryland where I too am in fear of losing my job (music) thanks to the possible cuts here.

  3. I can’t believe how out of touch this organization is with the “real world” of Governor Corbett’s cuts to education! These cuts are detroying the roots of art and music education across the state! Teachers in our district and districts across the state, are worried loosing their jobs due to Governor Corbett’s cuts. Most of these districts have already lost their art, music and language programs!

    All I can say is that the public better wake up and make their voices heard before Governor Corbett and others like him destroy public education completely!

  4. The opera’s decision is incredibly shortsighted. My daughters’ public schools (2) are both losing arts electives and support, and many other teachers, resulting in larger class sizes. The public needs to turn the tide back against the governor’s destruction of the bedrock institution of our society, and any free society.

    • I think it’s important to note that we are not against arts organizations having corporate partners. Indeed, this is a wonderful thing for corporations to do — support their local communities. But I would hope that they might also use their heft to speak on behalf of arts education and the very future of those arts organizations. Corporations also have a front-row opportunity to tell the Governor that we must have adequate, equitable, and sustainable state funding for public education.

  5. I can’t believe this. The Pittsburgh Opera does a wonderful job of advocating for the arts. Marilyn Egan, the Director of Education, organizes the most amazing workshops for educators to incorporate opera into cross-curricular lesson plans and activities for students. This is so surprising to me because one of the Pittsburgh Opera’s main objectives is to educate and reach out to young people.

    • I love Marilyn, too. Soon she won’t have many teachers left to train. I hope that doesn’t mean she’ll become redundant, too.

  6. I will be there on Saturday to help protest. I know many of the employees of the Opera, and will be making damn sure they see me there or at least know about my presence. Let’s rally all educators to join in on this!

  7. This action has gone viral! Almost 5,000 people have read this blog piece in the past 24 hours, and many are posting on the Opera’s facebook page. But please also check out today’s post about “Singing it to the Legislators” who need to hear our anger!
    We can let the Opera know what an outrageous choice they made, but the real problem is the de-funding of our public schools. Please call your legislators now and tell them we must have adequate, equitable, and sustainable state funding for public education.

  8. I think that Yinzercation is the most impressive grassroots public advocacy group I have seen in Pittsburgh since moving here from DC in 1993. The public protests, letter writings, wide scale distribution of factual information and an emphasis on action. It’s phenomenal.

    I am will be in the minority by saying that calling public officials to complain about an award to Corbett is distracting attention from the key issue. Even Frankel and Costa who are supporters of increased funding in education will be scratching their heads wondering – “what are you asking me to do: request that the Opera withdraw an award that also recognizes Susan Corbett. She has served on the board of the PA Council for the Arts for nine years, having first been appointed by Gov. Mark Schweiker in 2002 and re-appointed by Gov. Ed Rendell in 2009.

    The fact is that it’s hard to get funding for the Opera and if you can get a bunch of folks to come to a dinner for a struggling arts organization at $750 per person or $5000 at table you jump at the chance. My goodness, if we stopped giving awards to people who really don’t deserve it, well we would have to start with kids soccer, and you know exactly what I mean : )

    All of this good fun at Corbett’s expense is beside the point. We have to stay on task here and don’t lose the plot in the messaging. The message isn’t personal – it’s about the loss of opportunity for our kids. The blunt message to Corbett and those who vote for his budget cuts has to be that If you cut funding for public education in PA you will lose votes. We will continue to organize thousands of others to defeat you at the next election. And, you will definitely not be receiving any more awards!

    Gerry Balbier

    • Thanks, Gerry! When I called my legislators today, I didn’t complain to them about the Opera or this award. I used the opportunity to tell them how incensed people are about it — precisely because of the state budget cuts to public education. It’s a wonderful example of the enormity of public support for our schools and we should grab this chance to tell our legislators to get to work in this budget negotiation process going on right now!

      • I hear you. And think what you are doing is great. But did you like the line about kids soccer trophies?

    • Can’t believe what I’m reading.Corbett is a disgrace as Gov. There are enough HONEST people the Opera can get funding from. Also just because a person is on a Board does not mean they really support the Issue. Proof; Check the appointments Corbett has made to head departments in the state of Penna. Yes, and parents should speak up even when BAD honorees are chosen in CHILDREN’S sports. (my Parents taught us kids are goats)

    • Thanks! And keep spreading the word about contacting legislators this week, too … that is the most important thing right now. They are negotiating the budget and we need to tell them that it’s a matter of priorities: they must find a way to adequately, equitably, and sustainably fund public education.

  9. Pingback: Governor Corbett to receive lifetime achievement award for… Education! | APSCUF-WCU

  10. I’m a faculty member at West Chester University and am sending this around to PASSHE faculty and as many people as I can. Gov. Corbett’s attacks on public higher ed are as nasty as his attacks on public K-12 education and the arts. We’re all in this together, and I hope some of our Western PA colleagues turn out to support you.

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  13. Tell me folks when do we take our foot off the money express. As a former history teacher of 32 years, 1967-1999, I have seen the price of an education go through the roof. Now that I am a school board member I am going to work to cut the fat in this business we now call education. We are 35th in the world and this after the Commonwealth spends over 14K per year. If that number stays in place we will spend $182K per student for his 13 year education. As school populations go down and employees increase, how long do you think it will take to destroy the Commonwealths and States of this great nation.

    • It’s hard to see how adequate, equitable, and sustainable state funding for public education is a “money express.” I also cannot fathom calling the arts “fat” in our education budgets. We have slashed our programs to the bone — ask the hundreds and hundreds of parents and community members writing to the Opera this week. They testify that school districts across the state have cut art, music, choir, band, foreign languages, tutoring, and Kindergarten programs, just to name a few. Furthermore, school populations are NOT going down everywhere in Pennsylvania and the money we do spend on public education is well spent many times over in social benefits and future payoffs. (You want to talk expensive, look at the price of incarceration.)

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