#ArtsMatter: Redefining The Importance Of Arts

Amy-Grace Shapiro, Feature Editor

In 2017, when AP Art History teacher Christine Moros created an Instagram page for the Visual and Performing Arts Department at Miami Palmetto Senior High School as a way to combine all the arts onto one page, the hashtag “ArtsMatter” soon followed. 

“We were like, ‘Oh, art matters,” and then we were like no, no, no the arts matter, all the arts matter,” Moros said. “It kind of just started to be like, well, let’s show Palmetto that what we do here matters and that we find it important and that we care for our students.” 

The phrase began as a way to spread positivity and showcase students’ work. However, over time, the “ArtsMatter” hashtag not only served as a way to show students at Palmetto the importance of the arts but to also show students nationwide who were experiencing cuts to their programs. 

“The saying was more of standing in solidarity with the other schools who don’t have the support that we do here. We are basically saying we see you, we hear you, we understand that arts matter and as well as starting up a conversation at Palmetto to advocate for our arts program,” Palmetto photography teacher Katherine King said. 

This story is sponsored by Play Works.

Under the Common Core Standards Act, schools must place the most emphasis on core classes such as math and English. As of 2020, only 19 states include the arts as a key subject area in their state accountability systems.

“There are a number of schools that have cut back their arts program and we have seen a decline of them. What we see is also a trickling effect with other academic subject areas. Once the arts are cut, then everything else starts to suffer as well,” Visual and Performing Arts Department Chair and Palmetto fine arts teacher Dr. John Salomon said. 

Within the Palmetto Arts Department, students can choose between six programs: art, band, dance, drama, orchestra and photography, all of which allow students to branch out from their required curriculum and gain new perspectives.

“Art is important because it allows people to think differently, [be] a little bit more open-minded and kids can express themselves in the arts in ways that they might not be able or feel comfortable to express themselves in properly,” Moros said. “So if they are creating something or dancing or playing something, it is a cathartic release for them.”

In photography specifically, students are given the freedom to express themselves and take photographs according to each project’s theme. For King, creating a class where students did not feel as confined to a rubric or guidelines remained a top priority.

“For my class, it’s about creating a safe environment where students can be themselves; they do not have to fit inside a box whereas in an academic class, you are going to sit down and get a lecture. I am going to give you the space to create something that you would not have normally done on your own,” King said. 

Across the hall in the dance room, dancers of varying levels have the opportunity to express themselves through physical movement. In the higher-level classes, such as the Variations dance team, the class is more self-directed and allows for more creativity.  

“It is really important, not only for dance but for the arts in general, to continue; they give students the freedom and creativity that they might not get while writing an essay,” Palmetto junior and Variations Junior Officer Halle Segura said. “The dance class just has really left an impact on me that I will never forget. No one ever forgets their years in the dance program, whether it was since freshman year or even senior year; you will leave Palmetto with an everlasting impact.”

Thanks to the updates to Palmetto’s campus, the Arts Department gained its own wing with multiple classrooms equipped with new facilities and resources whereas before, the art classes were randomly dispersed throughout the buildings. 

“Overall, the arts have really improved over the years, [but] it has not always been this way. Now we have this beautiful art wing to show for it. When I started here, I taught in different areas of the school: I taught in the cafeteria, I taught in the old woodshop and to finally be in our own building shows the dedication of the community to push for the arts,” Salomon said. 

With the new arts wing, the drama program has continued to excel, especially with the addition of a black box theater many have dreamed of for years. 

“We were all super excited to have a black box theater because before the most space we had was our little room and whatever space was leftover in the auditorium. When we wanted to work on an everyday basis, the classroom was too small to be working on different pieces at the same time,” Palmetto senior and Thespian Vice President Camila Moscoso said. “It’s been a dream come true; even Palmetto graduates of the program come to visit us just to see the black box.”

In drama, students are not forced to stick with one field of theatre; instead, they are able to try out the many aspects that go into the entire production until they find what fits best for them. 

“I thought I wanted to be an actress, and even then, I knew I wasn’t good enough to succeed. After discovering Stagecraft, it was exactly what I needed to express myself, exactly how I wanted to and I always feel confident in my abilities,” Palmetto senior and Stagecraft Costume Leader Lilija Stevenson said. “If you have a vision you have the urge to convey, there is always a way for you to do that.” 

The dedication of both teachers and students to the arts is evident, as many of the classes and groups continue rehearsals even after the final bell at 2:20 p.m.

“Along with Stagecraft, I am also in the Advanced Musical Theatre class, which has a 7th period. The amount of other classes that also stay after school every single day is amazing. While we are singing and dancing in the black box every day, we always hear the bands playing and the cheerleaders practicing. Everyone in their art program is so devoted and all of the teachers are committed to seeing their students succeed,” Stevenson said. 

Similar to the musical theater group on campus, the music program, housing both band and orchestra, also performs frequently, spreading a different form of art across Palmetto. 

“Arts are good for the soul; it moves us emotionally to feel and experience different things. I remember going to certain concerts here at Palmetto and as I was sitting there, engulfed by the sound, moved so emotionally almost to tears,” Salomon said.

Many students and faculty members alike have begun to wear the “ArtsMatter” hashtag on their clothing to continue to spread awareness. Through Sharing Wear, the ArtsMatter designs are available on t-shirts, sweaters and more, with all proceeds donated to the entire Arts Department. 

“The Sharing Wear design was not really just to raise money per se, it was also to show support, like, ‘Oh, I am part of band and I’m wearing the ArtsMatter shirt.’ It was a more visual representation of arts matter,” Moros said. 

For teachers, creating classes that allow students to continue exercising their creativity throughout their adolescent years makes it worthwhile. 

“Picasso has a very famous quote that says, ‘Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.’ I think he really galvanized that when we are small, we have a sense of wonder and as we get older, that sense of wonder disappears,” Salomon said. “Arts matter and also art teachers matter; in our visual and performing arts department, every single person that teaches one of these subjects are very special people.”

The arts at Palmetto are what many look forward to in their day and what make students excited to attend school. Regardless of the form, arts allow many to express themselves in ways they would not be able to before. 

“It seems like such a silly little thing for people to devote their lives to, but there’s something so inexplicable about it. I can’t imagine a world where there is no art or expression, and even if people claim that it’s a useless career, if they listen to music, watch T.V., take photos or dance, they are supporting the arts. While it may seem small, it has such a big impact on our lives as humans and I feel proud knowing that one day, my work will make someone feel something,” Stevenson said.