Art Education Can Improve the Well-Being of Children, Especially Black Children

Studies show art education can decrease anxiety, depression, and stress—and that's exactly what it did for one college student, who says children of color especially need the benefits of a creative outlet.

A little African American child outdoors doing a painting project.
Photo: Kristen Curette & Daemaine Hines/Stocksy

It's 2012. Before I start the magazine cutouts for my wall, I have to decide if I want to listen to records or find a Pandora station of interest. There was always a lot of noise in my life. Even with only two people in my home, it was never quiet. No matter where we lived, my mom and I always had the house filled with music from the speakers, arts and crafts, and conversations about fashion and other art forms.

Art expanded my self-identity, saved me when I felt alone, and kept me grounded since early childhood. Art has the power to change and enhance the lives of youth, and specifically children of color.

I was born in Pasadena, California, about a mile outside of Los Angeles. Every Sunday my mom and I would have an adventure. Whether it was live music and crepes at the Santa Monica Farmers Market, or a local art exhibit, our mint green Volkswagen Bug took us wherever we needed. Activities like this made me more interested in listening to music and reading at a young age. I always dreamed up these fantasy worlds for myself, and my mom was always the superhero.

Things changed in 2009, when the country was facing one of the biggest recessions to date. With layoffs, and hardship knocking on our door, my mom, and families across the country, had tough decisions to make. In America, 80% of single parent households are headed by mothers and one-third of them live in poverty according to the US Census Bureau, 2020.

As my mom began a career change, I began spending a lot of time by myself and to compensate, I filled my room with my fantasies. I started to use my magazines and music to create an artistic environment that exercised my mind while I was home. I painted my room with images of magazine cutouts from my mom's old Vogue, W, Elle, and Vanity Fair magazines. I lived for the beautiful images I saw on these pages. Fashion became my dinner some nights. I would eat up every dress or shoe. While Amy Winehouse blasted in the background, I would cut out pictures of the latest Prada bag or Rihanna's newest photo shoot.

Art has had a huge influence on the way I see my identity and place in the world. Alongside fashion, music continued to have a big impact on my life. As I got older, I started to become more critical of my identity and, at times, alienated myself from the world. I'm mixed. My mom is white-presenting. When I started to realize that our identities were viewed differently in the world, it was a lot to take in.

Music made everything better, and helped me learn about my culture as a mixed woman through the lense of other artists. I couldn't live without it—without the noise I'd drown in my own thoughts. The album Channel Orange by Frank Ocean was released in 2012. It was, and still is, my holy grail. The seventh track "Super Rich Kids" spoke to my everyday life as I tried to insert myself into the seemingly "perfect" rich, white families I was surrounded by. The exposure to music, fashion and art were necessary to my growth and crucial to continuing a healthy mindset throughout my young life and, now, into college.

I still continue to use music as an outlet to make noise, especially any time that I deal with feelings of anxiety and depression. I love fashion and how it is able to represent different identities. I love art like paintings and sculptures that are a glimpse into a different dimension. I'm now studying journalism at Emerson College, intending to pursue a career in fashion journalism with hopes of weaving in ideas of social justice to my pieces.

Art education should not be considered a luxury, and is crucial in the development of children and self-expression. According to a study conducted by Penn State University, "Research shows that art activities develop brain capacity in early childhood. Art engages children's senses in open-ended play and supports the development of cognitive, social-emotional and multisensory skills." Art education has also been proven to decrease anxiety, depression, and reduce stress.

There are also free artistic options for parents who can't always afford to buy art supplies, or for students at schools that don't have enough funding for art curricula. Local museums have free or reduced museum weekdays, and even have free art events in the summer for children and families to participate in. Not only that, local rec centers offer arts and crafts for children who attend.

As someone who most likely wouldn't be where I am today without the exposure to the world of art, I can confidently say that art has the power to positively impact other children, as well. Especially for Black children, who experience anxiety at higher rates and at younger ages than white children, there needs to be outlets of expression provided to them. It needs to be accessible and taught to all, especially the youth, as they are going to create the next generation of creative thinking. For young people like me, art is a saving grace.

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