SCS ArtsFest Demonstrates Why Arts Matter

May 11, 2018

The arts are as essential as English and math, or so the statistics say. Here's one: students in the arts are four times more likely to earn academic honors.

That's why this Saturday (May 12), Shelby County Schools is highlighting over 900 student performers and nearly a thousand pieces of student artwork from more than 150 different Schools.  

The ArtsFest is a celebration of the district's rising stars in the visual and performing arts. The event is free, with overflow parking and shuttle rides available at Overton High School. 

Darel Snodgrass talks to Kelly Hatton, Shelby County School's lead for visual arts, and Wincle Sterling, Shelby County School's lead for Orff music in this interview.


Darel Snodgrass: We hear so much about arts education being short-shifted in our school. So, it’s great to see that you guys are putting on this great event.    

Kelly Hatton: Well, as you said, this is a showcase of the rising stars in visual art and performing arts. The theme for this year is "arts matter" and we are trying to demonstrate how the arts are key to closing the achievement gap and building positive school climate because we believe the achievement gap is an arts gap.  

Snodgrass: How are you going to showcase the visual arts?   

Hatton: Teachers were able to submit up to six student pieces and they’re all in nicely matted, displayed by elementary, middle, and high. We will also have a special exhibit, at ArtsFest, for MLK 50.   

Snodgrass: What are we going to see in terms of performing arts on Saturday?   

Wincle Sterling: We’re going to start with the SCS's All-City band and followed with the All-City dance ensemble. With the All-City choirs, there's going to be an elementary, middle, and high school choir. Following the choirs, there’s going to be a talent showcase, which will include ensembles from different schools. The final performance of the day will be the All-City Orchestra.  

Snodgrass: We hear so much about the difficulties that that schools have with doing arts programs, that there are constant pressures to cut these things. How's Shelby County Schools doing? Are we getting these young people exposed to the arts?   

Hatton: Yes and actually that’s a good segue to tell you about our recent "arts matter" campaign. The campaign is an effort to help the community understand the immense academic and social, emotional, benefit of fine arts education. Often the arts are seen as fluff, as an extra that only certain types of students deserve. And, we, of course, do not believe that’s the case.   

The arts are as essential as English and math, particularly in a district like ours that struggles with a high poverty rate. That’s why we’re trying to reframe the arts conversation to focus on the fact that the achievement gap is, in fact, an arts gap.   

Just to highlight a few facts from Americans for the Arts:  

* Students in the arts are four times more likely to earn academic honors.


* Economically disadvantaged students in the arts are twice as likely to graduate college.


* Students in the arts are three times more likely to attend school regularly.


* Economically disadvantaged students in the arts are five times less likely to drop out.


* Students in the arts are three times more likely to be elected to class office, to vote, and volunteer.


*72% of employers say creativity is the top skill they are seeking when hiring.


*African-American and Hispanic students are 52% less likely to have access arts education.


*Students with consistent access to the arts have higher GPAs and scores on college entrance exams, regardless of economic background.  

More statistics at

Snodgrass: Wincle Sterling, we know that there are certainly other schools that are devoted, especially to music here. You think of the STAX Academy, of course. What about opportunities for musically inclined students in our public schools?  

Sterling: I would like to recognize a few other musical milestones that occurred this year. We have a class piano program, which is an afterschool tuition-based program, and this year they celebrated their 88th year of operation in the district.  And, in talking about Orff music, we do have 100% coverage in our district. Every child in K5 receives art and music instruction.   

Snodgrass: Kelly, you’ve got something else you want to mention....   

Hatton: Along with the performances and art works on display, we will also have a number of our community arts partners on site, like the Orpheum theater and Dixon Gallery & Gardens. They will be sharing information about their programs and summer offerings for students and families. There will be several community art making activities, so both indoors and outside weather permitting. So, you’re getting to see these performances and these art works, but you’re also getting to come in and collaborate with teachers and students.

For more information about Shelby County Schools ArtsFest, visit