Arts are the heart and soul of education, gentling and refining touches that provide a solid foundation for less abstract school subjects.

"The arts appeal to something inside. They allow students to express parts of themselves they couldn't otherwise," said Teresa Corry, Alpine District arts coordinator. (See related story below.)But when harsh realities of education funding come home to roost, arts courses, particularly in elementary schools, may be the first to be offered up on the altar of economy.

Utah is taking steps to entrench the arts as an essential element of basic education, said Charles Stubbs, arts specialist in the State Office of Education. The state's core curriculum includes a requirement for arts education. It has been several years in planning and must be implemented by 1992, he said.

"We are in the process of visiting all 40 districts to see how they are progressing," Stubbs said. "As you might expect, arts are the last aspect of the core curriculum they are working on - with some exceptions."

In 1985, a cooperative project between the state office and the Utah Arts Council gave impetus to arts in the schools by naming model school sites to develop exemplary arts programs.

These schools were selected through an application process to represent a cross-section of the state, Stubbs said, with large and small, urban and rural schools chosen. San Juan District involved all its schools at the outset. Salt Lake, Ogden, Uintah, Alpine and Washington districts chose to begin with one or two schools and have since expanded the programs into additional schools.

In some instances, schools that have been on the program for awhile adopt "sister" schools to share the expertise and experience that have been gained.

Utah may now have the most comprehensively defined arts curriculum in the country, Stubbs said. Specific concepts and objectives have been set for each grade level, and testing will be developed to assure that children are achieving those objectives.

"I think the future for arts in Utah schools is brighter than it has ever been," Stubbs said. "We are the only state in the Union that has specific objectives developed in art, music, dance and drama for all grade levels." Literature is incorporated into language classes.

Ideally, he said, the arts would become intrinsic to all areas of study. As more emphasis is placed on the arts, he expects that teachers in other disciplines will look for ways to accomplish that.

The state office is conducting inservice training, Stubbs said, to help school districts implement the arts core curriculum over the next three years. The successful arts projects in the six pilot districts will be shared with others through inservice projects as well.

"One big problem is the cost of materials and supplies - musical instruments, sets of art prints and other items," Stubbs said.

The Legislature has made $117,000 to $125,000 available for the arts each year since 1986. They money has supported the demonstration projects and provided seed money for all the districts, but full implementation of the core curriculum could create a need for more funding.

Successful arts programs are drawing on community resources to supplement what is available in their schools. The Arts Council also has helped to bring visiting artists to the schools and provided other support.

Some districts, particularly small rural districts, also face a dearth of art specialists to teach the prescribed curriculum, Stubbs said. Inservice training from the state office will help to fill gaps, but may leave some unmet needs. The arts could be a logical area for expanded use of tele-learning and technological development, he said.

Primarily, Stubbs said, a change in thinking is necessary to make Utah's arts programs work as effectively as possible. Arts must be seen as an essential part of education, not as a daily crayon-and-paper activity to eke out the last hour of the day.

Fears that devoting time to the arts would adversely affect student work in other academic areas have not proved valid. Students in the six model site districts either improved on standardized test scores or stayed the same, surveys show.