The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

The student news site of Brookline High School

The Cypress

Inequities impede students’ pursuit of art beyond high school

While often equated with a realm of creativity and freedom of expression, the artistic field comes with it’s own economic, social and educational obstacles, blocking many from pursuing art.

To major or not to major, that is the question. For many young artists, the answer will depend on various social and economic pressures.

In March, The Cypress distributed a survey across all grades to determine whether artists at the high school planned to pursue art in the future. Of the 90 respondents who identified as artists, only 13.5 percent said they wanted to major exclusively in art. The remaining 86.5 percent chose either a non-art-related major or both.

Junior Abigail Ketema is one of the 86.5 percent. Though Ketema said she is very passionate about both drawing and theater, she does not want them to be her primary focus in college.

“I was thinking about doing a major, some really big thing like engineering or law, and maybe having a minor in something that I really want to do, like history or arts, especially because I’m into theater a lot and I’m into drawing,” Ketema said.

Ketema is not alone in thinking this way. In fact, 42.7 percent of artists surveyed by The Cypress expressed an interest in double-majoring in both an art and a non-art-related major. When asked why they chose both, 51.6 percent selected the response that read, “Art is not that stable of a career / need to supplement my income.”

These statistics allude to a bigger question: what are the various limitations that young artists at the high school face?

Economic Boundaries to Art

Some art pursuits can be financially inaccessible to students, whether they involve expensive equipment or years of lessons. Sophomore Maya Huling, a visual artist, said that extracurricular art enrichment is an example of a significant economic barrier.

“I’m going to be applying to different summer programs for art. But that kind of thing can be really expensive and hard to get financial aid,” Huling said.

Sophomore and musician Amelia Barrona said that instruments and lessons have been costly, and she sometimes struggled to convince her parents to pay for them. Baraona said she would likely dedicate her life to music if money weren’t a concern.

“I think if you have the economic freedom to afford all the things that come with being interested in pursuing music professionally, it’s definitely easier to pursue it as a career,” Baraona said.

According to the survey by The Cypress, 20 percent of respondents said that art had been a financial burden for them.

Junior Echo Larsen, a photographer, said owning expensive equipment isn’t necessary to be an artist, but having access to quality cameras helps.

“It’s mostly a financial burden just because of the equipment I have, like the digital camera and all the lenses and everything. I’ve been lucky enough to get a lot of hand-me-downs from my grandparents. But just the lenses and stuff are a lot of money, like thousands of dollars,” Larsen said.

K-12 Visual Arts Interim Department Chair Donna Sartanowicz said she sees the economic boundary in private art lessons and supplemental classes. Sartanowicz said she worries about kids who don’t have the means to afford private lessons and expensive materials. However, she also said that the perception of art as an upper-class activity makes it seem inaccessible to those who are not.

“When art is looked at as only being in a museum, I think that excludes a lot of people from access to that,” Sartanowicz said. “People who have intellectualized, over-intellectualized art, making it a kind of an esoteric field, have rendered it inaccessible to everyday people. Whereas, you think about the Middle Ages, art was how people understood what was going on because they couldn’t read.”

Sartanowicz said she also sees time as limiting students’ access to art. Sartanowicz added that the lack of art emphasis in elementary education is a reason students with means seek outside resources.

“Students are given very little time for art—as little as 40 minutes a week for nine years,” Sartanowicz said. “I think we need to give students access to more time and more variety in the kinds of things that they do.”

However, Barrona said the high school did a good job providing economic support and supplies to students taking creative classes.

“The school has helped out a lot because there’s a lot of programs in the school and stuff that’s for free here,” Barrona said. “That’s probably what’s more motivating to me because I can pursue it in school.”

Larsen said they were also satisfied with the equipment the high school provided students with in photography classes and the variety of art classes offered.

“I think [the school is] doing a really good job. There’s like a bunch of different arts classes, especially visual arts classes. I’m really happy with the amount of photography options there are.”

Social Boundaries to Art

While there are economic barriers in the field of art, some of these barriers may be exacerbated by societal norms. According to Ketema, one of the primary reasons she feels unable to pursue art as a career is the stigma of art not being a financially sustainable career. Ketema said that in art classes she’s taken, she remembers hearing discussions about art as a career being shut down or met with negativity.

“I remember hearing about, ‘Oh, I really want to go into animation; I want to start working at, like, Disney, or any of the other big animation companies,’ ” Ketema said. “I always hear someone else saying, or I feel like I might be that person who’s saying, ‘I don’t know if it’s going to be a sustainable job for you. I worry that it might end up badly for you.’ ”

Ketema said that in addition to peer negativity, students may also face a lack of parental support. According to Ketema, her parents were worried about the large pool of talent but few opportunities in creative fields.

“The idea of creating art as a profession, it sounds amazing, but then people start talking about, ‘Oh, it takes so long to get a job because there’s so many people trying to do it, and you can’t provide for yourself, and you’re always staying up really late doing your work,’” Ketema said.

Huling said that parental attitude is one of the biggest factors in whether or not someone pursues art at a higher level.

“I’m lucky because my dad has made a career as a musician, so he has the background of saying, ‘Yes, it’s possible to not be a starving artist to make a career,’” Huling said.

Sartanowicz said she faced a similar experience of reluctance from her parents. Sartanowicz said when she was in high school, she was interested in theater, but her parents were hesitant about her going to college for theater due to its competitive nature. Sartanowicz said it wasn’t until much later in her life that she decided to go back to school for art.

“I decided at some point to go back to school, and I decided to go to art school. I paid for it because it wasn’t something my parents at that time could think, ‘Oh yeah, this will make sense, and she’ll be okay because, you know, she’ll be an artist.’ And then, eventually, I found my way to art school, teaching art. Now they’re all totally on board with it.”

Higher Education

Sartanowicz said students may also feel dissuaded from pursuing art at a higher level at the high school due to the limited amount of elective blocks available and the pressure for students to build “practical” course loads.

Sartanowicz said that students in separate programs can have limited access because their programs have a limited number of blocks they can take.

“But the perceptual barriers are just as great. And the perceptual barriers are thinking, ‘No, no, this is not for me,’ you know, ‘I can’t afford the time or to indulge in this kind of activity because I don’t see a path forward for me in this.’”

Huling said they had similar concerns about taking an art class at the high school.

“I think there is probably a tendency toward more traditional career paths in the way of what classes people prioritize,” Huling said. “I know a lot of people prioritize STEM and AP classes over art classes.”

According to Ketema, even students who take many art classes may need more preparation to pursue a career in the arts. Ketema said she felt there weren’t many resources available to students who wanted to apply to art schools compared to students who wished to focus on other higher education paths.

“You can take all those classes, and you’ll feel prepared once you get to college, I feel. But I don’t think we do a good job at teaching the students on how to actually make a career out of it,” Ketema said.


The combination of perceptual, social and economic factors can keep the arts out of many people’s reach. However, according to Larsen, photography is for everyone.

“You really only just need your one camera, and that’s it,” Larsen said. “I think you can just make beautiful photography that way, but I definitely think that some people might want to try to stay away from it just because they think it’s cool, but it will be a financial burden.”

Senior Rosie Cheng has been sewing since she was 10 and will attend the Fashion Institute of Technology this fall. Cheng said that she and her parents took financial prospects into consideration when deciding to go to art school. Cheng said she gravitated towards fashion design as opposed to fine arts because she felt it had more career opportunities.

Cheng said that she would encourage people to pursue art in whatever way they can, regardless of financial standings.

“I think if you’re gonna try to pursue art, maybe you could go to a college that has both an academic thing and then an art thing, so then you have kind of both under your belt, and you’re not losing your art because you get to practice it in college,” Cheng said. “I don’t know, just keep pushing, and I think that’s it. You can make it even if you are not financially able to get it. You don’t have to get the best art supplies to practice.”

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