By: Quinn Bryant
Every January, the Baltimore School for the Arts holds auditions for 8th and 9th graders interested in pursuing a career in the arts. Over 1,000 students audition and only a little over 100 are accepted every year. Different art departments look for different qualities in their auditions, but could the art education you got while in middle school make or break your chances of getting in? The answer is not as straightforward as it may seem.
Budget and Structure
One factor in any successful program is the time and money devoted to it. Those factors will contribute to the resources and accessibility it has. Baltimore City Public Schools have outlined their attempts to produce a successful arts program across the school district. In the published BCPSS 2020-2021 budget review, they outline their Fine Arts Initiative, which is outlined annually in Attachment 13 of their Master Plan.
The Fine Arts Initiative“allots funding to support curricular and instructional programs in visual arts, dance, music, and theater. This includes district music festivals; student field trips; systemic professional development for visual arts, dance, music, and theater teachers; and financial support for these initiatives.”
Along with this initiative, BCPSS has an additional Arts Education Strategic Plan. Its goal “ensures representational structures including but not limited to the hiring processes, curricula, environment, access to resources, and continuous access to sequential arts instruction in all art disciplines. The overarching goal of this plan is to increase student agency, facilitate authentic self-expression, and prepare students for post-secondary success to better the community through the arts.”
To ensure their plan’s success, it includes a five-year implementation of its goals and an accountability process. Specifically for middle school students, the standard is that all students will have art instruction each year and may specialize in one or more of the art disciplines of dance, media arts, music, theater, and visual art.
The plan has all the key components to produce a well-structured art program, but many professionals feel it is still neglected. TWIGS Director Candance Everette claims, “resources are very limited in Baltimore City Public Schools, especially as we continue to navigate the impact of the pandemic.” Baltimore city acknowledged that their students need more access to the arts in the FY23 Adopted Budget Presentation to the Baltimore City Council.
In that same presentation, BCPSS plans to increase its budget for enrichment to a more than 7 million dollar increase in the 2023 academic year. However, this amount of money isn’t just going to the arts—it is going to athletics as well. Arts and Athletics are two subjects that require a lot of funding and attention to succeed.
But funding is only part of it. Schools need a set art curriculum, but it varies depending on the school. According to Lisa Peels, Admissions Coordinator for BSA, the schools that audition vary year to year. However, she always sees some of the same schools, such as Roland Park, which Senior Violinist Lauren Ewards expresses gave her “the catalyst toward her progressions in other orchestras.” Lillie May Carroll Jackson School has a connection with Art for Heart (a visual arts non-profit) and an extensive theater program.
BSA also sees some private schools audition consistently, such as Friends School of Baltimore, Bryn Mawr, and Garrison Forest School. Private schools typically have their students choose an artistic concentration in their arts curriculum. Kai Hams, a senior film student who went to Friends School of Baltimore, says, “There was a solid choice in what arts you could pick, but it was a lot more music-focused.”
However, Kelly Durkin, an elementary/middle school drama teacher at the Belair-Edison School, believes that middle school art should be more of an exploratory period for students, which is the path public schools take. At Belair-Edison, students are encouraged to find their artistic passions.
But even if you explore music, dance, and visual arts, what gets more focus in the overall arts program? Visual arts are naturally built into Middle school schedules as your art class, whereas dance could be later replaced with music or is optional.
According to Arts Everyday, Baltimore City’s strategic partner in advancing access to the arts, “90% of Baltimore City Schools now offer courses in Visual Arts”. This could be why visual arts has the largest applications to BSA each year. In 2022 there were 231 applicants for the Visual Arts program, and Acting was second with 172 applicants.
Durkin expressed that acting doesn’t need a lot of funding to enrich the program. They don’t have as many material needs the way music does. Music is one of the more neglected arts in public schools, which could explain why music had the smallest application pool of 62 applicants in 2022.
“68% of schools offer courses in Music. However, less than 15% of students have access to Instrumental Music, Theater and Dance instruction” (Arts Everyday). The city released a statement in the FY23 Adopted Budget Presentation saying, “We will increase instrumental music opportunities for all students in K-12.”
Many students learn from outside-of-school opportunities. Everette expressed that “In a perfect world, all students should have the option to remain within their communities, at their schools to learn and experience arts and culture.” However, many students look to the outside-of-school art enrichment programs, such as Peabody Preparatory, the Leaders of Tomorrow Youth Center, or the TWIGS program at BSA, to expand their arts education.
“The TWIGS (To Work In Gaining Skills) program provides initial artistic encounters as well as advanced instruction for Baltimore City elementary and middle school students in dance, music, acting, stage design & production, visual arts, and film & visual storytelling,” says Everette. TWIGS is also partially funded by the BCPSS budget for BSA.
“This year (for school year 2023-2024), 18 out of the 21 admitted visual artists are from the TWIGS program,” says Peels. But according to Everette, just because you did TWIGS does not necessarily increase your chances of getting into BSA. “I believe TWIGS is an absolute pillar, not a guarantee, to the increased probability that a student may be granted admission into our high school.”
“However, data does reflect that the in-depth training and skills taught over a period of time prepares TWIGS students in ways that undoubtedly equips them to execute professionalism and meet and/or exceed artistic standards set forth by instructors and department heads,” says Everette.
From budget, curriculum, private vs. public, and outside-of-school training, many factors contribute to a middle schooler’s admissions to BSA. If you go to a middle school with a more “intense” art program, one that puts the money and resources towards it, you may be more intrigued to a school like BSA.
However, there are many public middle schools that don’t receive that exposure. Even with the higher quality middle school art curriculum that we see, students are looking for more outlets than they are given in school. Statistically, there is no sequence of circumstances that can guarantee a student into BSA.
To contact this writer, email Muse Newspaper at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Headline photo caption:
Film TWIGS student in the library. Photo by Grace Sutherland for the BSA Muse