Art education–including music, theater, dance, drawing, painting, or sculpture–is integral to any well-rounded curriculum. Despite the nagging need for budget cuts that have plagued America’s public school systems in the past decade, arts education should not be the first classes to go.

Education is molding the future of this country and it is the public school system’s job to give individuals a well-rounded education—one that stimulates an open and creative environment.

I remember the first time I sang for Mr. Burlace.

I was 12 years old and I walked into the middle school classroom, ready to begin my show choir debut. After tentatively singing 20 seconds of my audition piece from the Broadway musical, Wicked, his quick eyes looked up from the score sheet.

“Well done. You’ll know by the end of the week.”

Just like that I had conquered the fear of singing in front of someone and survived my first–of what would eventually be many–choir auditions.

This was the beginning of my music experience in the public school system. An intelligent young man with a unique mind for music, Mr. Burlace, also known as JB, would play an integral and transformational role in my educational career as my choir director for the next seven years.

The skills I learned under the direction of Mr. Burlace far surpassed reading music and matching pitch.

I learned the importance of self-discipline, the beauty of teamwork, the power of creativity, and the role of respect.

The way that I think, learn, and work with others now as a junior in college, nearly three years after my last rehearsal with JB, is significantly influenced by the growth I developed through my fine arts education.

However, my experience is not abnormal.

Positive Correlations in Performance

Countless studies have been done that highlight the positive impact of art education in public school curriculum.

A study done in 2002 by the Arts Education Partnership looked at over 62 different studies from 100 researchers, spanning the range of fine arts from dance to the visual arts. Using this data, researchers determined that students who received more arts education did better on standardized tests, improved their social skills and were more motivated than those who had reduced or no access.

In 2011, a more recent study called “Reinvesting in Arts Education” found that integrating arts with other subjects can help raise achievement levels. It showed how art education not only can help raise test scores, but also the learning process itself–much like my personal experience.

This report on the Maryland school system found that skills learned in the visual arts could help improve reading and the counterparts fostered in playing an instrument could be applied to math. Researchers and classroom officials believe the integration of creative opportunities could be key to motivating students and improving standardized test scores.

Art education encourages students to ask questions and think differently, rather than stifling child creativity and curiosity. By broadening the learning styles, students are allowed to find out where the excel.

It even plays a role for the students who are not artistically-inclined or gifted. Art instruction allows students to look at things differently to combat the singular rigid structure of school systems where “mistakes are the worst thing you can make” referenced by Ken Anderson in his 2006 Ted Talk titled “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”

But the role of art education extends beyond a fun, creative outlet for students of all kinds with some positive side effects. I would argue that the skill sets developed through art education are essential for success in America’s current marketplace.

Skill Sets for Success

Over the past three or four decades, America has entered into what has become coined “the Creative Age.”

We live in an era where everyday new technologies and opportunities are brushing our fingertips. Economic superiority is derived from this newfound Creative Age because innovation and creativity are the center of economic success.

According to Forbes Magazine, Apple is the world’s #1 most valuable brand worth 154.1 billion dollars in 2016, above Coca-Cola, Microsoft and even Google. In 2008 when describing the new aluminum MacBook, one of it’s advertising slogans read, “Redesigned.Reengineered. Re-everythinged.”

Fast forward five years and Apple has already enhanced this MacBook Pro with their new slogan reading, “Built for creativity on an epic scale.”

The most successful company in our day and age is basing its marketing on re-invention and creativity.

Creativity, imagination, and innovation are necessary among individuals in order for future generations to compete on a global economic scale.

A special report in Business Week magazine observed last year: “The game is changing. It isn’t just about math and science anymore. It’s about creativity, imagination, and, above all, innovation.”

Public school systems have the unique opportunity to shape and reshape the future of this country, one class at a time. In the midst of budget cuts and administrative decisions, art education is often the first to go.

While new political powers have recently left many individuals in America feeling bleak about our country’s future, schools have the responsibility to educate through the arts to develop a well-rounded generation equipped to succeed.

Even if schools continue to cut these integral classes in coming years, it’s important for us to not lose sight of the arts. Join a community art class, learn how to play an instrument, or sit down and scribble out a poem.

Creativity is not confined to the classroom–the power is in your hands, too.