Art programs in school have been proven to be fundamental to the development of children, yet in recent years arts education has faced a nationwide decline. States have had to prioritize subjects such as math or language arts because of their practicality, but have not taken into account how beneficial the arts are to so many students who need creative outlets to academically thrive. The movement Americans for the Arts outlines these benefits in their Facts & Figures Navigator that provides statistics displaying how the arts help students succeed in the long run. Students who have something to look forward to every day are more likely to want to attend school, which is why students involved in the arts are four times more likely to participate in math or science fairs, three times more likely to win an award for school attendance, four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement, and three times more likely to be elected for class office.
National budget cuts reflect the flawed class system, as budget cuts almost always disproportionately affect low income schools and minorities. African-American and Hispanic students have significantly lower access to arts education than White students because of the correlation between low income communities and minority groups. Organizations have taken stances against these injustices all over the world, each advocating for the recognition of all types of arts. Strings4Smiles is one of them.
Strings4Smiles advocates and raises funds for music education for underprivileged students. Founded by New York City high school student Esandi Perera, the organization aims to support underprivileged and minority students by providing them with basic music education and instruments. Strings4Smiles acknowledges how music can academically, emotionally, and mentally benefit the youth, and acknowledges the disheartening fact that many schools cannot afford music curriculums and leave children in the dark about what it means to genuinely be able to appreciate music. They think of students who could have the potential to become future Mozarts but would never know because of their lack of resources and music education. In communities where the disturbing trend of the school-to-prison pipeline is prevalent and children are stunted from having their own forms of creative expression, the need for music education is more dire than ever. Perera stands by the belief that “Every child has the potential to become a talented musician, and every child deserves the same opportunities to get there.”
Despite the fact that Covid-19 has cancelled many of the organization’s planned programs, Strings4Smiles has not stopped their fight for music education. During this time, the team of high schoolers behind the movement had planned educational workshops that they hoped would shape the leaders of tomorrow. They were set to take place at community centers and museums, with the intent of teaching people about the importance of music education and the benefits that come with it. They also aimed to bring light to their eco-instruments at these workshops, which they find essential to Strings4Smiles because they teach those without resources how to create music with unexpected materials. Students can be sustainable and create music through the recycling of materials like egg cartons, boxes, plastic bags, etc. There is no doubt that the organization plans to continue with their events when it is safe to do so, more notably the benefit concert they plan to hold with Grammy nominated artist Dr. Dale Stuckebruch and other talented youth musicians. For now, the organization will shift to remote learning that gives students access to free one on one music lessons throughout the entire summer, starting in June.
Strings4Smiles is not an organization that can be confined, a fact that is proven through the efforts they aim to make towards becoming more widespread. Despite their current focus on New York City centers for their programs, the organization has trips to Sri Lanka and the Philippines in the works so children there can experience musical opportunities as well. “We hope to expand and take on more countries in the years to come, but for now we are happy that we can at least make a difference in the lives of New Yorkers.”
They hope to help hundreds of students a year in the future by becoming a global organization and ask anyone who can to donate to their GoFundMe that can be found on their website strings4smilesnyc.org. Spreading the word about their organization will help further enable their efforts to empower students to pursue music as career choices and give students creative outlets. Their entire mission is based on giving students who are underprivileged and underrepresented music education, which is why they make honest efforts to show their city the importance of music education, while still holding the knowledge that most students cannot afford instruments. The organization strives for more with each passing day and hopes to grow to the point where they can give students their own instruments to keep.
Strings4Smiles is a beacon of hope for underprivileged children, something that becomes more impressive, but not surprising, when the fact that the organization is made up entirely of high school students is considered. Perera encapsulates the influence of Gen Z perfectly in the statement, “Teens are the future, and as a teenager, I know the power we hold. I believe our generation will come out stronger than the previous ones. Look at everything teens are already achieving. We are fighting climate change, were protesting abortion bans, we are trying to bring peace back to our country. Nowadays I see so many teen activists truly standing up for what they believe in. I think it’s amazing what teens are doing and I can’t wait to see our impact. Strings4Smiles was created to be a youth-run organization, teenagers are so incredibly passionate and have been surrounded by music since a young age. They truly know how empowering music is and want to help other students gain the same opportunities for a music education.”
The future of music and other arts education becomes brighter each time an organization made up of intelligent and passionate people comes forward with nothing but the intent to help others. Strings4Smiles has the potential to be the push that students need towards a better future, and the potential to end the stigma surrounding pursuing the arts as careers with their advocacy and efforts.
Strings4Smiles is an international youth organization run by NYC high school students, aiming to provide music education to underprivileged students.