Arts’ Watch: Three questions with Rep. Ryan Dotson

Published 9:54 am Saturday, January 27, 2024

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By Bill McCann


I wrote State Representative Ryan Dotson (R) of Winchester about being interviewed for this column. As the legislative session was a busy time, he was not available to sit for an interview but did agree to answer three questions regarding the role of the arts in his life and his thoughts about the value and importance of the arts in our public schools. His answers have not been edited.

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 McCann: What role do the arts–writing, singing, acting, photography, painting, ceramics, etc.–play in your own life, either as one you enjoy as a participant (an artist) or as an audience member?

 Rep. Dotson: Just like everyone else, I enjoy a good book, an entertaining movie, or going to a concert, But if you take a moment to stop and think, then you will see that it is much more than that. Most of our day is influenced by one of these styles of art. Our phones are constantly showing us amateur photographers and actors. We listen to singers anytime we are in the car, cleaning, or exercising. In Frankfort, there are displays of painters and sculptors on every floor and in every office. Additionally, some of the best days in the capital are spent listening to the student groups that come up to sing around the holidays and or display their art during special events. Art’s impact is felt from the buildings we work in to the phones in our pocket.

 McCann: What role should state government, particularly the state legislature, play in making certain that the arts are available in local schools?

 Dotson: Our primary role is to make sure we have an education budget that supports our local districts. We have 171 school districts. There is not one that is identical. They all have different populations, socioeconomic makeups, geographic sizes, needs and different levels of available funds from local revenues. Our priority is to make sure the children of those school districts are afforded an education that allows them to be successful citizens and the ability to make a good life for their future families. With the current learning loss and low success rates in reading and mathematics, the legislature’s focus will be on addressing those academic issues. But one way to support the arts in our local schools is to invite the bands, choirs, painting, and photography groups and classes to Frankfort to display their talent to the entire state. Additionally, it is important that we show our support to the classes and to the students who participate by our actions in our districts. Just like with our student athletes, it takes a lot of time, effort, and confidence for these kids to complete and display their art and music. As a community, and as a commonwealth, we should support them along the way.

 McCann: Do the arts have an important role to play in K-12 education? If so, what should that role be and who should decide the scope of arts education in local schools?

 Dotson: I think the arts play an important role in K-12 education. In elementary school, children should be exposed to the various arts in an age-appropriate manner. They should have an art class, music class, and learn how to read and write in an artistic way. As they move into middle school, they should understand what they like and what they are good at, and can take elective courses and join student groups that allow them to continue exploring the arts. I appreciate it when schools have extracurricular groups that let kids with the same interest come together and explore activities like photography or painting. High school should also provide opportunities for the kids to continue these activities. These activities give kids a break from traditional coursework, while still promoting development and learning. It also allows them to get close to the kids around them. Additionally, the American Psychological Association has research that shows music students outperforming non-music students in math, science, and English testing.

 As for who should decide the scope of the arts, that should be left to the school district as hiring on the local level. A school district should not be penalized if they cannot find a qualified instructor for an art class or band program, but it is important that we give our students access to these activities.

Bill McCann is the author of God Hires Gardeners. He may be reached at