The Transformative Power of Arts in Education: Enriching the Whole Child

Editor's note: This article first appeared in the St. Louis American E-Edition on February 8th.

By Dr. Candice Carter-Oliver, CEO of Confluence Academies 

For students in St. Louis schools, the arts are not an addition to the core curriculum; they are essential to create a rich learning experience for every child. As educators, we witness every day the transformative nature of art education in our schools. It’s not just about creating future artists, but also nurturing well-rounded individuals who can express themselves and thrive in any career.  

Creating well-rounded adults starts early, so the foundation of arts education should be laid at the early grade levels and even before a child enters the classroom. Research consistently shows the profound impact of exposure to the arts in a child's developmental journey, even before children enter formal schooling. Creative expression through the arts fosters cognitive development, fine motor skills, and emotional intelligence, preparing young minds for the challenges ahead. 

Research conducted by Americans for the Arts has looked at decades of studies that focus on the arts and academic improvement. The research found a positive link between listening to music and spatial-temporal reasoning; learning to play music and spatial reasoning; and classroom drama and verbal skills. Research also found a tie between learning to play music and mathematics; and dance and nonverbal reasoning. Each of these emphasizes the holistic nature of arts education.  


Further, the mental and social health of children—an unfolding crisis in many of our neighborhoods—can also be improved by arts education. The arts provide a channel for emotional expression, helping children regulate their emotions, think through challenges, and make informed decisions. It serves as a therapeutic outlet, offering solace and empowerment, particularly for those facing adversity. 

The power of art education is understood when you look at all it involves – visual art, dance, vocal and instrumental music, and theater. At Confluence Academies, we recognize the significance of introducing arts early on, and in addition to drawing, coloring, and painting, we’ve implemented creative dance programs at our Pre-K through 8 schools, Old North, and South City Academies. This curriculum aims to not only nurture a child's innate creativity but also provide the foundations for healthy self-expression, promoting confidence, and a positive self-image. 

It’s also why our Grand Center Arts Academy Summer Arts Camp is designed for campers in grade five through 12. This camp allows students in a wide age group to explore artistic expression through immersive experiences. It’s rewarding to watch them discover their unique talents and begin to cultivate a lifelong appreciation for the arts. 

St. Louis students and their families need to be comfortable exploring art, both in and out of the classroom. Luckily, St. Louis is a treasure trove of accessible art. The St. Louis Art Museum, with its free daily admission and Access for All Free Fridays program bring world-class art to families. The Contemporary Art Museum also supports accessible arts in St. Louis highlighting local diverse artists and talent in real time. 

The Kranzberg Arts Foundation, the Kemper Art Museum, and the Missouri History Museum all contribute unique perspectives and experiences. The artist-driven Mural Mile along the downtown St. Louis flood wall, awe-inspiring mosaics at the Cathedral Basilica, and the architectural wonder of Central Library demonstrate the marvelous artistic diversity of St. Louis. All these experiences can enrich a student’s understanding of art and encourage curiosity and appreciation of the diverse world around them. 

As educators, we look to use every tool possible in creating healthy, happy, and successful students. One of those tools is the transformative power of art. By embracing the arts, we foster creativity and instill a lifelong love for learning.