Commentary: Why arts education funding matters to our students and how you can preserve it

The Meadowdale High School Players performing in “Mamma Mia” in May 2024.

“To say the arts aren’t vital is ridiculous,” said Edmonds-Woodway High School theater teacher Bruce Mindt, who has been teaching for more than 30 years. He was also recognized with an Honorable Mention for the National Excellence in Theatre Education Award, part of the annual Tony Awards.

“The arts are a place where students learn to solve problems, figure out who they are and what they’re capable of. I cannot emphasize enough on the importance of art education,” he said.

On April 23, the Edmonds School Board voted to reduce ESD’s 2024–2025 budget to address a $10.6 million funding gap —  and these include significant cuts to music, visual and performing arts. The cuts also eliminate fifth grade band/orchestra.

Mindt emphasized that students who study theater and other performing arts can build confidence to find their voice and learn how to speak in front of others. “Maybe before [taking the class] they didn’t understand their value and what they had to say was important,” Mindt said. “So many grow immensely as humans in the arts because they can figure out some things that they can do really well.”

Hollywood voice actor and filmmaker and a Lynnwood native Tom McGrath told KING 5 News that he and his brother used to play outdoors in the woods in Lynnwood and pretended they were on an alien planet or in prehistoric times. They recruited kids from the neighborhood to create their Super 8 movies.

“We had a lot of fun in our early years until I heard [about] CalArts where you could learn animation and go to California,” McGrath said in an interview with Charles Bright on Gold Derby. “It was my ticket to animation.”

His early experiences in art programs led him to a career in animation for various films and TV shows, such as The Ren and Stimpy Show, Cool World and Space Jam. Later he directed, produced and wrote several films, including Madagascar, The Penguins of Madagascar, The Boss Baby and The Boss Baby: Family Business.

McGrath and Mindt were classmates and graduates from Meadowdale High School in 1983. Mindt attended Edmonds College and was transferred to University of Washington where he earned a bachelor’s degree in theater and a teaching degree. McGrath studied Industrial Design at the University of Washington and graduated from the Character Animation program at California Institute of the Arts.

While McGrath was working as a background and layout designer in The Ren and Stimpy Show in 1994, actress Anna Faris was one of Mindt’s students during that year as a senior. Faris has appeared in the Scary Movie series, Lost in Translation, Brokeback Mountain, and Overboard. Her latest film is the comedy-drama The Estate (2022) with Toni Collette and David Duchovny.

“She was thoughtful and very specific as an actor,” Mindt said. “She was a really good teammate. She looked out for other people in the class and was constantly interested in ‘How can I get better at this?’”

The Foundation for Edmonds School District (FESD) announced its $2.25 million Save the Arts Campaign last April to protect the school district’s arts programs. By March 31, 2025, an extra $750,000 must be raised to maintain the current music, visual and performing arts programs across the district for the 2025–26 school year.

“The public needs to look at the long term,” Mindt said. “Short term is a real bummer. If we can do things to shore up in the short term, that would be fantastic. But in the long term, we need to speak with government officials in Olympia, and find a way to fund schools appropriately. If they’re going to require kids to take art classes in high school, then they need to fund those classes.”

The Edmonds School District receives 72% of its funding from the state, 15% from local taxes, 9% from various sources, such as school meal sales, donations and interest income, and 4% from the federal government.

“Without proper funding from the state level, school districts have the ability to pick and choose what they’re going to cut,” Mindt said. “Edmonds [School Board] chose to cut the arts, particularly in secondary schools. The public needs to do what they can to get the state to mandate the funding to the arts so that school districts don’t have the ability to cut the arts first when they run into a dilemma with their budget.”

Understanding the importance of the arts and having made a successful career for himself, McGrath urges the public to support the preservation of ESD’s arts programs.

“The Edmonds School District has always been a leader in arts and music,” McGrath said. “As a community, we can’t allow these opportunities to be taken away from students.”

Mindt suggests that the public should make a lot of phone calls and emails to their state representatives and legislators. “They need to know [this] is going on, and if they don’t know or if people aren’t loud enough, then changes won’t be made,” he said.

For more information and to donate, visit Foundation for Edmonds School District.

— By Deborah Brandi, Executive Director
Foundation for Edmonds School District

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