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February 12, 2020

Media Contact: Katie Cornell, Executive Director, (828) 258-0710,

Can the arts play a supporting role in closing Asheville’s racial achievement gap?


Nate McGaha, Executive Director of Arts NC, to speak on arts access and education on February 18 


February 12, 2020 – Asheville, N.C. Arts access has been shown to improve test scores, increase graduation rates, and reduce crime, yet access to arts programs dramatically decreases as students reach middle and high school. According to Americans for the Arts, students that engage in arts programs score an average of 100 points higher on their SATs and are 5 times less likely to drop out of school than their peers. This report also shows that participation in after-school arts programs causes juvenile crime levels to drop by an average of 5%. 

Asheville has the largest racial achievement gap in the state. Could the arts play a key role in bridging that gap? According to Asheville Area Arts Council Executive Director Katie Cornell, it can. “It is clear to me that part of the problem our schools are facing is a lack of cultural understanding and sense of belonging.” Cornell goes on to say, “Recent articles highlighting students’ feelings of being culturally misunderstood and the lack of teachers that reflect the same ethnic identity demonstrate the need for programs that promote cultural inclusion, and the arts are a powerful tool to do just that. For these reasons, arts advocacy is crucial.”

On February 18, 2020, Nate McGaha, Executive Director of Arts NC, will give a talk on Arts Education Advocacy 101 at 5:30 pm at the Center for Craft (67 Broadway) as part of the Asheville Area Arts Council’s Creative Sector Talks Series. As our state arts advocacy organization, Arts NC champions a comprehensive approach to arts access that focuses on education, integrations, and exposure. 

“When we frame arts education as ‘nice’ instead of as an integral and necessary component of a child’s education, we are not only doing a great disservice to our students, but we are neglecting the well-being of our own society,” says McGaha. “All students deserve a comprehensive arts education, and it is the students facing the most barriers that have the greatest need for this instruction.”

Shirley Whitesides, an art teacher in Asheville City Schools for 34 years and President of Delta House Life Development of Asheville says, “When students understand their own culture and have a sense of belonging in school, in the community, and at home, their grades, attendance, and behaviors improve. They develop self-esteem, have a sense of pride, build self-confidence, and improve their social and emotional learning."

Shirley Whitesides (right) at the African Americans in Western North Carolina & South Appalachia Conference at the UNC Asheville (October 19, 2019).

According to the 2016 Arts Education Data Project report for North Carolina, 100% of Asheville City School students receive visual arts and music classes throughout elementary school. Arts enrollment then drops to 74% in middle school and 38% in high school. However, this report just measures direct arts, education classes. What about arts integration into the core curriculum and arts exposure outside of the classroom? 

Buncombe County Schools Arts Specialist Laura Mitchell notes that “Students who are enrolled in an arts course, have arts integration in their curriculum, and who are exposed to a variety of art forms inside and outside the classroom from local to global are experiencing a true comprehensive arts education. This is our goal for all students.”

Registration is now open for Nate McGaha’s talk on February 18th. Reserve your spot ($5) at


Founded in 1952, the Asheville Area Arts Council (AAAC) is the second oldest arts council in the state of North Carolina. The mission of the arts council is to keep the arts at the heart of our community. AAAC supports this mission by advocating for the local arts sector and providing professional development and business services for area arts organizations and artists. Learn more about the arts council’s work at

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