The Arts’ Impact Goes Beyond the Classroom

With School Days Series turning 25 this year, Monte Bohanan, our Director of Marketing and Communications, spoke with Anna Nuttall, the K-12 Visual Arts Department Head for Portsmouth Public Schools, about the importance of the arts in schools and everyday lives. 

What is the most important reason—or two—that we have arts in education? 

Learning through the arts is not only fun and exciting, but it engages all of our senses and exercises so many skills such as critical thinking, imagination, creativity, problem-solving, visual literacy, and more. It’s immersive, and when we are immersed we can explore and internalize subjects more deeply, make personal connections, and retain more of our learning. 

How have you seen that the arts and art classes positively affect kids? 

I can’t think of a time (in my lifetime) when we needed the arts more. Art is a way for youth to explore both their own cultural and individual identities, and those of places around the world. We learn to feel, touch, smell, hear, and move—while being mindful and in the moment. Students in today’s world need every possible expressive outlet out there is to process and share their own and each other’s stories, ideas, opinions, and feelings, and to exercise empathy and compassion.  Art can be incredibly therapeutic.  

We hear that the arts are sometimes seen as a luxury or left out altogether in school curricula—what have you and the district been able to do to keep the arts an integral part of students’ education?

It fascinates me that this myth of the arts being “extra” still exists. The arts have been in existence since the dawn of civilization, and are a basic universal language. Whether we are learning about art through making or using art as the language to learn about other subjects – the arts are just as (if not more), important as reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic.  Art is not just a product to enjoy, but a process of experience. Art isn’t a thing, it’s a way.

What’s a moment that stands out to you in your career as a “this is why I do this” moment? 

My students give me examples of this every day, and I love working with so many amazing young minds! One moment that comes to mind was when I was working with the African Burying Ground project, and introducing my 6th graders to the world of public art, and why it’s so important to society: a girl raised her hand and said, “ So…public art is like public speaking, but better because it’s ALWAYS there saying what it has to say.” Bingo.