Interview with Commissioner Bowen on Arts Education

August 30, 2011

Questions and Answers

Commissioner of Education, Stephen Bowen

The Commissioner of Education, Stephen Bowen, graciously took the time to answer questions about Arts Education for the meartsed blog. I look forward to continuing the important work of Maine arts education with the Commissioner as we move towards transforming our schools for 21st century learning and students.

Question: As Maine’s Commissioner of Education what is your vision of the role of arts education in our schools and communities?

Commissioner: I think it is critical. If you look at what thinkers like Daniel Pink are saying, the economy of the future will be one in which creativity and innovation play a central role.  I think we have to see to it that our students are exposed to the arts and that they develop their creative capacities.

Question: Maine arts educators appreciate your commitment to the arts education assessment initiative. The Teacher Leader arts educators who are participating in the initiative have stepped forward and made a commitment to helping others in our state become better educators and to improve their curriculum, instruction and assessment of the arts.  What message do you have for them?

Commissioner: The message I have is that I thank them for taking on this important work. It is becoming increasingly clear that none of us are going to be able to make our schools better on our own. We are going to have to work more collaboratively, and one of my top priorities is to develop a state-level online clearinghouse where educators can share what works. That way, we can, all of us, work collectively to build capacity in order to meet the needs of every student.

Question: You have a daughter who has benefited from her involvement in visual and performing arts education. As a parent what do you think is important about the education your daughter receives from the arts?

Commissioner: I think both of my girls have benefited from arts education. I think they both see value in artistic expression and I think they both have developed an appreciation for the talent and dedication that artists bring to their craft. They also, I think, have come to understand the important role that the arts can play in helping us understand our world and appreciate it. All of this is critical to their educations.

Question: I know it is early, but can you share where you imagine arts education in the Department’s comprehensive state strategic plan.

Commissioner: I think it will cut across the strategic plan. As we move to a student-centered, proficiency-based model of education, students will be given more voice in how they choose to learn and more choice in how they demonstrate that learning. When given “voice and choice,” I think we’ll see students employing the arts as a way to share understanding. A true standards-based system will also require, of course, that students demonstrate mastery of the state’s art standards, so it will appear there as well.

Question: What did you see and hear on your listening tour that you think all Maine arts educators should pay attention to?

Commissioner: The parents I talked with expressed a great deal of concern about how our test-driven focus on math and language arts, combined with recent budget cuts, has led to a scaling back of art programs. They then connected that to issues around student motivation – if the programs that students enjoy are cut back, it gets tougher and tougher to motivate kids to engage at school, which creates issues for parents and teacher alike. There is a great deal of concern about a narrowing of the curriculum, and I think that is, in part, driving the backlash we’re seeing towards NCLB. We have to be aware of this sentiment, which is widespread, and take it into consideration as we think about how to move forward in this new era of NCLB waivers.

Question: Do you have any ideas on how higher education can collaborate with arts education PreK-12 to strengthen and build on programs in arts education?

Commissioner: I think students will benefit from any steps we take to break down the barriers between K-12 and higher ed, regardless of the content area. It certainly seems, though, as though the arts lend themselves to this kind of collaboration. With the technology we have today, it seems as though there are plenty of opportunities for sharing, perhaps that is something that can be a focus of our efforts to build a state-level clearinghouse for the sharing of best practices.

Question: How do you imagine we can foster creativity in communities and the Maine economy?

Commissioner: Going back to Daniel Pink again, he sees the economy moving forward as being one that places a high value on creativity. That means we need to think about arts education in the context of innovation. We need arts education to inform that creative aspect, but we also need a business climate that encourages innovation and risk-taking. We want a vibrant, entrepreneurial climate that makes it easy to take creative new ideas and get them out there into the marketplace. If we play our cards right, there is no reason why Maine can’t become a center for innovation and entrepreneurship with a strong focus on the arts.


  1. Thank you to Commissioner Bowen for his supportive remarks!

    I encourage him to continue his own education on the positive effects that the Arts has on student achievement and on the future promise each and every student has within them.

    I think it was Steve Jobs, someone we could say has been extremely successful, who said he would rather have an employee who had studied art than an employee who had studied only technology. He understood the value of the Arts in Education and beyond. Let’s follow his example as we move forward on ANY initiative in our educational system.

    Let’s support the Arts in our Educational system the same way we support STEM disciplines- not because any is better than the other but because all together, they make a complete system.

  2. It is awesome to hear our Commissioner talk about how important arts education is, and to know that he “gets it”. Research shows the link between a solid arts education and nurturing creative, critical thinking (which we need now and in the future) is indisputable. To move forward, we need leaders who understand this and take the action necessary to ensure that it happens. Thanks, Commissioner!

  3. Preconceived (and inaccurate) notions about the Arts (“music is for the musicians”, “art is for those that love art”, etc.) has always been perhaps the greatest hurdle to moving Arts Education forward in our state. I am encouraged that the Commissioner is communicating the (accurate) need to have the Arts cut across the spectrum of our students and curriculum. The moment we accomplish that in Maine, Arts education not only ceases to be marginalized, but it becomes a dynamic partner with the other seven content areas in a collaborative education of a whole child in the 21st century. Equitable access to Arts instruction remains lagging behind in so many of our schools, but I believe Commissioner Bowen’s vision gives us all some hope for the future!

  4. Commissioner Bowen’s remarks around parent involvement and the narrowing of curricula are especially important, I think. Bringing parents into the conversation about what happens in school is crucial in moving any sort of positive changes forward. Parents know their children in a different context than us as teachers, and all parties sharing that knowledge with one another can give everyone a much better picture of the whole student and what each students specific needs are. Parents also, through increased connection with the schools, can offer another perspective aspect to discussions around curricula and what excites and brightens their children’s school experience. Thank you Commissioner Bowen, it seems we are moving in a positive direction!

  5. Glad to know Commissioner Bowen is in our corner!
    Can you tell me more about the arts education assessment initiative? Who, what , where…I’d being interested in being involved.
    Romy Polizotto

  6. Hi Romy!
    The initiative information is on the Maine arts assessment wiki at http://maineartsassessment.pbworks.com. Please take a look at the wiki and then email me if you have any questions argy.nestor@maine.gov.

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