Great Falls, the Future Arts Capitol of Montana – Its Up to You!

By Heather Hale

They’re going to cut the arts.

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When parents hear about school cuts, they automatically assume arts and music programming will cease to exist in their child’s school.

It is certainly my greatest fear as a parent.

What if my oldest son had no orchestra twice a week? How would my middle child feel if he lost his beloved art teacher? What would our schools look like without any arts programs?

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Losing the arts completely is a hot topic for parents, however, the reality is more subtle and much more alarming. Schools rarely eliminate art departments, but when backed into a budgetary corner, administrators scale back offerings, overcrowd classrooms, and eliminate creative and travel opportunities. All of this breeds mediocrity and dampens student enthusiasm.

Great Falls’ beloved arts programming is already in serious trouble.

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After ten years of school mill levy failures, our flagship music and art programs are struggling. The decline will continue until voters step up. Dusty Molyneaux, Fine Arts Department Supervisor for Great Falls Public Schools, oversees the 4,000-plus students who participate in arts programming each school year and their teachers. Despite wide popularity, his budgets are being cut back as class sizes swell.

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“For general music, this becomes problematic, especially at middle school,” he said. “Thirty-five kids in some classes now—that is a lot of students to try and teach! Even when we have teachers backing each other, that is 70 students for two teachers.”

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It’s not just large classes creating headaches for music teachers and students.

“We have instruments that have been in service since the 1960s, and maybe some older” Molyneaux said. “But I don’t have the resources to buy lots of brand-new instruments to replenish our inventory.  It is a struggle trying to keep everything in workable condition.”

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“In art, we have many old kilns that could break down at any moment,” he added, “and our budget for art supplies gets smaller and smaller every year, so teachers have to be really creative with finding supply sources and coming up with projects that use limited materials.”

If voters continue to vote against full funding, further cuts will come.

“The travel budget would be the next to get hit,” Molyneaux said. “That would mean AA Festivals, All-State, art trips, and Northwest Conference trips would all have to be paid for by students and parents, and the little that I am able to afford now for teacher professional development would be cut even further.”

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Forcing parents to pay for participation in arts programming will further the economic educational divide.

It’s simply not fair that some students will be forced out of life-changing programming because of bad politics.

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GFPS music programs led me to music school at the University of Idaho then back home to play with the Great Falls Symphony. Orchestra tour and Double AA Orchestra Festival remains my favorite high school memories, and I always took for granted that those programs would be around for my three sons.

Now, as a parent, I’m facing the very real prospect that these opportunities may go away, just like the Environmental Ed field trips I enjoyed so much as a kid.

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Overcrowded classrooms and broken-down supplies do not have to be our norm.

Molyneaux sees a brighter future for the arts if voters step up in the coming years, and his version of the future includes economic development and revitalization for everyone in our city.

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“Great Falls should be the arts capital of Montana,” he said.

“We have a great symphony, two fantastic museums, and some decent infrastructure.  We have a fantastic working relationship between the public schools and these organizations as well.  We are centrally located and can be a draw for state-wide events. We just need people to support the creative elements in our community more.  At one time Great Falls was the musical center of the universe as things passed through here from Minneapolis to Seattle and Denver to Calgary. I would love to put us back on that map.”

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As parents and citizens, we have the power to make that vision a reality.

My kids, your kids, and all kids deserve the opportunity to express themselves through the arts. Supporting our school district through responsible funding measures allows educators to provide programming that benefits generations of Great Falls residents.

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Arts programming is vital to our kids’ success, especially in our ever-changing job market.

“In a society where a lot of the job opportunities that will be available to kids in school today are not even in existence currently, kids need to be creative, independent thinkers that also know how to discipline themselves and work collaboratively with others,” Molyneaux said.

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“They need to be able to focus on details, and also be able to see the big picture as needed. The arts are perfect training for the future!”

You can support arts in Great Falls by voting YES next spring on the elementary levy.

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Want to do even more? KEY is always looking for volunteers! Go to kidseducationyes.com for more information.