Got Opportunity?

by Natalie Jacobs May 30, 2017


merrylgoldberg-artequalsopportunity-12_resizeFor Merryl Goldberg, it’s a new art-filled day in San Diego. The veteran art educator and klezmer saxophonist is underway with a campaign she hopes will help people see art as important to developing young minds as drinking milk is to growing strong bones. Here’s the big idea – when art is integrated into classrooms early on in the education process students learn better and with more vigor. This is a tall claim and up until recently, there wasn’t a lot of research to back it up. But people like Goldberg, who has worked in the arts and arts education her whole career, have known this intuitively for a long time. With research now supporting that gut feeling, the doors are flinging open for new opportunities in what Goldberg calls arts integration.

First, a definition. Arts integration is when art-making is incorporated into non-art subjects, like history and science. Take a science class that’s learning about the metamorphosis of a butterfly for example. In a class that utilizes art integration to enhance instruction, kids could be asked to act out the transitions from caterpillar to butterfly. Research now shows the learning that happens when a lesson becomes artful enhances the student’s connection to the subject matter. An older study out of Chicago looked at a teaching artist program in 2002 and put it this way:

When students received arts-integrated lessons compared to more traditional teaching practices, they improved their ability to assess their learning, and reported that the arts-integrated instruction created greater intrinsic motivation, encouraged learning for understanding, turned what students perceived to be barriers into opportunities to be solved, and motivated students to continue learning.

Goldberg is a professor in the school of the arts at Cal State San Marcos (CSUSM). She has also conducted research on arts learning herself while amassing a catalog of research for colleagues throughout the field. A major recent focus for her has been on how art exposure in elementary and secondary schools can better prepare students for college and jobs in the modern American economy.

“Twenty-first century jobs require things like cooperation, flexibility, empathy,” Goldberg says,  “we realize that the arts are really a place that brings that directly into kids’ education.”

Last year, Goldberg and two other CSUSM professors conducted a survey of ViaSat – a global broadband company headquartered in Carlsbad. Goldberg had heard that they were primarily hiring engineers with strong exposure to arts in their backgrounds and she wanted to see if that was actually true. The survey found that nearly half of the company’s 168 engineers had personal experience with the arts, especially music. Goldberg says she has also heard that Qualcomm and Boeing prefer to hire engineers with extensive arts experience.

“The arts ain’t fluff,” she says. “There’s research backing that arts are just good for better education, more aligned to what the workforce really needs and also [crucial] for a fulfilling life – [creating] more cooperative and empathetic human beings.”

To prove this to the rest of the world, Goldberg has launched an awareness campaign simply called ART=OPPORTUNITY. Funded by a grant from the Stuart Foundation, Goldberg has set out to publicize the broad value of arts integration, starting on campus at CSUSM and spreading out to other arts organizations and school systems throughout San Diego County.

“We have data right on our campus that shows students who have had three or more art classes in high school do better in college and are retained at a higher level than students who don’t,” Goldberg says. “It’s almost like a lifestyle change – eat your veggies, got milk, art equals opportunity. It really matters for your health and wellbeing.”

An initial step that has Goldberg encouraged is the expansion of arts education at CSUSM. In the fall, the university will require liberal arts majors to take two semesters of arts integration classes.

“I’m thrilled that students at Cal State San Marcos starting in the fall will be having more in their education around the arts,” she says.

The biggest challenge will be to make that shift on a large scale.

“Looking at younger folks, at teens, teachers, parents – if they really understand and are bought into what a difference the arts can make for themselves and the kids, then I think we will have made a big difference.”

Recognizing that there are plenty of art events around the county, Goldberg and the ART=OPPORTUNITY campaign are focusing on providing resources to individuals and organizations who are looking to bring more arts integration into their existing work. Fresh from a three-part parent education workshop, later this month Goldberg and her campaign will host a three-day professional development “bootcamp” on literacy and arts integration at the North County Regional Education Center. Starting in the fall, ART=OPPORTUNITY   will offer a certificate program for arts education. For more information on these workshops, and to delve into the research on arts integration and its benefits, visit

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