WASHINGTON—Faced with increasingly tight budgets, a growing number of U.S. schools no longer have the resources necessary to provide art classes with enough mannequins and human urine for each student, a report from the Education Policy Research Institute confirmed Friday.
In a nationwide survey, a majority of public school teachers and administrators stated that a lack of sufficient funding has forced them to cut back on many of the basic materials—from brushes and paints, to sculpting tools and clay, to life-size dummies and human excreta—traditionally employed in art classrooms.
“It’s sad, but my students don’t even have the supplies they need for an exercise as simple as depicting patriarchal oppression with a mannequin that has been painted orange, set on fire, and then doused with a bucket of warm urine,” said Robert Kessler, a sixth-grade art teacher in Cleveland, noting that his supply closet also lacks the old doll heads, used syringes, and Virgin Mary statuettes his pupils require. “Meanwhile, I have 25 kids in my fourth-period class sharing a single hammer, and by Thanksgiving, we’ll have run out of old New York City subway tiles for them to smash into thousands and thousands of tiny shards.”
“It’s sad to think our young people aren’t being given the tools essential for a proper grounding in the arts,” he continued.
Educators said that in order to complete the simplest of mixed-media projects decrying American corporate hegemony, students are forced to hold year-round bake sales and other fundraisers so their art programs can afford all the necessary fiberglass shark heads and rolls of packing tape. Even the youngest schoolchildren, they acknowledged, are routinely tasked with collecting their own sacks of human hair and nail clippings.
According to the report, parents are regularly called upon to donate old television sets so their children can deconstruct the emptiness of modern consumer culture, while local businesses often provide the hundreds of gallons of used motor oil art students pour over their heads as part of a stark meditation on America’s obsession with violence.
“Right now, if we’re going to have enough raw poultry to complete our introductory unit on death, it looks as though I’m going to have to go out to the supermarket and buy it myself,” said Petaluma, CA elementary school art instructor Mary Scofield, adding that she has already petitioned her district for funds to cover the antique surgical instruments her students need to examine the futility of all human endeavor. “It’s ridiculous that I’m paying for it out of my own pocket, but if I don’t, my second-graders simply won’t have any chicken skin to scrawl Bible verses on, and that’s just not fair to them.”
In addition to cutbacks in the visual arts, the report found that music, theater, and film programs have faced similar fiscal challenges. Teachers spoke of having to cancel performances in which students were to have taken turns striking a detuned piano with axes, and of never receiving money that was earmarked for renting out a cavernous warehouse space in which a tape recorder suspended from the ceiling would have played the sound of a single laugh on an infinite loop.
“How am I supposed to teach kids about the language of film without a video projector capable of alternately flashing the words ‘government’ and ‘lacerate’ on the side of an abandoned foundry?” said Eugene Hough, 62, a high school teacher in Des Moines, IA. “It’s disgraceful. My students want to subvert viewer expectations, but they just don’t have the 8-millimeter black-and-white reel of a naked elderly woman crawling through the woods they would need to do it. We are, quite frankly, selling our children short.”
“What happens when an entire generation of Americans graduates school without ever learning what art truly is?” he added.