There’s more to an arts education!

Years ago, I was fortunate to meet a young girl named Katie. She loved playing the piano, singing songs, and drawing pictures. Sadly, when she was 15, Katie’s parents went through a difficult divorce, pushing her into a challenging period of anxiety and depression. Her mom shared that the weekly consistency of lessons and artistic outlet grounded her and provided solace during a difficult time. As a friend said to me recently, the opposite of the word depression is expression, and this is what Katie did; rather than keeping her emotions locked up, she shared her feelings through her art. I was privileged to observe Katie’s journey. I got to see her work through some big stuff and come out on the other side, and today, I’m happy to say she is a thriving adult.


How many of you, like Katie, took music lessons or participated in band, orchestra, or choir? How many of you enjoyed drawing comics or choreographing new dance moves? How many of you can say that the arts played a role in your life? 

If you talk to your co-workers, neighbors, and friends, I bet you’ll find they have a story shaped and touched by the arts; maybe a story about a special violin teacher who inspired them to be all they can be or how acting in a community play helped them come out of their shell. You might even discover they spend their free time putting together TikTok dances! The impact of the arts is even more profound.

In a study presented by the organization Mental Health America, this year, 1 in 10 youth in the US are experiencing severe depression. If you were graduating from high school today, consider how many of your classmates would have fallen into this statistic. 

As youth development researcher Bonnie Benard explains in the article, Fostering Resilience in Kids, depression, anxiety, and traumatic stress are lessened through arts participation, and visual art classes, music-making, or putting on a play are the building blocks of resilience.

Unfortunately, Federal data from the Institute of Educational Sciences expressed that during the 2022-2023 school year, 20% of our public schools experienced staff shortages for music and the arts and 49% for mental health professionals. 

After-school arts programs, such as Prairie Music & Arts, can play an essential role in filling this gap – offering educational programming beyond the school day that fosters resilience against mental health challenges. 

Prairie Music & Arts prioritizes supporting youth’s mental health and is building programs for children to collaborate musically, create imaginative art, write poetry, and much more—like Katie, sharing what’s in their hearts and minds.

Providing access to the arts 

In addition to children’s mental health, it’s important to recognize how economic disparity impacts youth and how organizations such as Prairie Music & Arts can help.

According to the Children’s Defense Fund, among the 74 million children living in the US, 11 million children live in poverty. 11 million children!

As presented in a study from the National Endowment for the Arts about the benefits of arts education for at-risk youth, low socioeconomic students with high arts experiences were more likely to 

  • Earn a Bachelor’s degree
  • Pursue careers such as medicine, law, education, and management
  • Be more civically engaged

Imagine what it would be like if all kids had access to an arts education beyond the school day!

Prairie Music & Arts has expanded programming – taking arts opportunities directly to even more youth to ensure they get quality after-school experiences.

We Need You

In 2023, Wisconsin ranks dead last in the nation in arts funding, and it’s not easy when you’re one of many arts organizations fighting for such little funding!

As Hellen Keller once said, “Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much,” and it is in partnership through financial supporters like you that we can do what we do

  • Through your support, we can build new programs that will take a mobile arts unit to the city’s parks and lower-income neighborhoods so that kids can paint murals, create youth versions of “Shakespeare in the Park,” or make music in drum circles.
  • Through your support, we can develop culturally immersive programs that bring together hip-hop artists, poets, dancers, actors, and musicians to guide students in creating works of art that speak their truths. 
  • Through your help, we can support our teaching artists by offering competitive wages so they can focus on doing what they do best – like being pirates in a student-written play or guiding the composition of a theme song for a youth version of late-night TV.

We all want kids like Katie to succeed and feel safe. Today, the youth we serve live in Sun Prairie and greater-Madison, but if I can bet on their futures, many will travel outside this city to impact the broader community. I invite you to join us today to give every child as strong a start as possible to become a healthy and productive adult.

The arts are everywhere; they impact us all; they are essential, and together, we can make a difference in kids’ lives. 

-Kari Walton

Adapted from a presentation given at the AAMVA International Conference on September 26, 2023