Art for Art’s Sake: The Impact of Arts Education Report

New Image[1]The Arts are Extra-Curricular and Disposable
July 23, 2013
by Guest author

Following the publication of Art for Art’s Sake by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation & Development, OECD’s Education Directorate, we asked Frances McGarry, PhD, host, producer, and blogger at First Online With Fran to describe her personal experience as a teacher.
The Arts continue to be cut from school curriculums across the nation. Despite arts advocacy groups’ efforts to prevent the decline of arts inclusion, the arts are perceived as extra-curricular and disposable when budgets are decided. Nothing is farther from the truth: the Arts challenge us to not only dare, but also explore the myriad of possibilities of “What if…”.
As a k-12 (primary and secondary school) English and Theater classroom teacher for over 30 years, Educational Theater scholar, and Director of Instruction for Arts Education organizations, I have witnessed firsthand the efficacy of an arts integrated curriculum.
Among the various experiences I’ve had as a theater education practitioner, perhaps the best illustration of how an arts-integrated curriculum works is the nationally acclaimed Theaterworks & Theaterworks Troupe program. Under the aegis of the Northport-East Northport High School English department, a team of innovative teachers created the Theatreworks program, a collaboration of 4 disciplines whose objective was to teach the intersecting terms: line, color, and texture through play production for grades 9-12 (ages 14-17). As the English staff member I introduced them as dramatic literary analysis terms; Home Economics translated them as costume design applications; Visual Arts scenic/lighting applications, and Music/Dance offered interpretations of vocal technique.
Through a hands-on approach students learned not only the skills associated with play production: casting, directing, rehearsing, designing, fabricating, sewing, producing, but also a practical work ethic: being on time, meeting deadlines, balancing responsibilities, working as an ensemble. Did I mention, that as an English teacher it was the best tool to get students to read and study and memorize lines from a piece of literature more than the typical cursory glance? I’ll never forget when Theatreworks students could cite verbatim lines from Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest for the New York State English Regents Exam.
But, perhaps, the most valuable skill was to have the freedom to fail: to understand that risk makes us learn how to be all that we can be. There are endless stories I can share as can so many of my capable colleagues: Tony and Emmy Award-winning actress Edie Falco insists on crediting me for her career path. Hardly.
For me, it was those “closet-kids” like the perky blonde ninth-grade cheerleader Erica who we discovered could not read! She was able to hide behind her beauty until we rotated her into the acting cycle and she refused to read for a part. That was quickly remedied and she was immediately placed in a special program. Or the lone Hispanic student in a 90% white population who found his place as a Stage Manager? I’ll never forget the deaf student J.J who danced in the after-school musical Brigadoon. Or my son, who credits Theatreworks as the source to pursue an engineering career: it was the only high school course where he was given a job (one that he was unfamiliar with like lighting), had to research the topic, get a team together to get the job done, by a deadline, under budget (or suffer the wrath of his director/mom).
Incorporating drama strategies across the curriculum also enhances learning. For example, to introduce To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee to my tenth grade English students, I lined up shoes that characters from the story might have worn. Using creative drama techniques students stepped into those shoes, shared, interacted with others thereby allowing them to create a foundation for their journey of understanding. I teamed up with the American History law class program to provide an historical framework.
Selected writing exercises from Young Playwrights Inc.’s Write a Play! curriculum were used with writing classes for high school students who would not even hold a pen, never mind write a one-act play. The popular “match” exercise where students talk for as long as the flame burns was the introductory lesson with Composition classes at Nassau Community College, a requisite entry level writing course. It’s about finding your voice: the Arts encourage students to think for themselves. These are all marketable skills vital for 21st Century employment.
Fast forward twenty years, adjunct stints, student teachers, training teaching artists, working with young playwrights, conducting professional development workshops across the nation, I continue to marvel at the lack of connect to what seems to me the most valuable global treasure we have.
The Arts have impacted the lives of so many people young and old and yet budget cuts continue to be the spiraling trend. Utilizing testimonials, interviews, and videos First Online With Fran, a talk show/blog was created to serve as the sounding board to give sustainable national attention to the Arts by inviting people from all walks of life – ordinary people doing extraordinary things to make our world a richer, deeper, better place to live.
Upset over the slashing of arts programs in schools I decided to do something about it. So, I got a bunch of kids from Brooklyn Theatre High School and asked them to respond to the statement: “The Arts are extra-curricular and disposable”.
Please take 6 minutes and listen to what they have to say…

Brooklyn Theatre Arts High School Students Speak Out

My goal for episode 2 is to receive as many views as possible to pitch to a network TV station; ultimately, to air it as a public service announcement (PSA) commercial. The message is clear, accurate, and it’s straight from the horse’s mouth: kids! Who better to express the transformative powers of the Arts?
I am asking for any of the following means of support (none of them require money!): your endorsement as a website comment, the click of your finger on the episode link, social media sharing, any kind of professional networking that you feel would benefit from viewing this episode. Or not. This is where my passion lies and this is my way of raising awareness and advocating for an arts inclusion education.
As a dedicated arts advocate I am committed to raising awareness of how the Arts rejuvenate. The arts restore. The Arts are our supernatural gift, the force that unites us as a single, breathing, living entity that connects every human being to be all that is good and pure.
Share your stories of how the Arts transformed lives and why we have a responsibility to ensure the Arts will continue to be a staple of our humanity. Bring it on!!
Useful links
Arts education in innovation-driven societies by Art for Art’s Sake co-authors Stéphan Vincent-Lancrin and Ellen Winner on the educationtoday blog
The Impact of Arts Education report examines the state of empirical knowledge about the impact of arts education.

Testimonial #26: Tanisha Christie, Owner/Producer/Director at Aya Arts and Media

How has your life been indelibly touched by a teacher who utilized the arts for whatever reason and acknowledge how they were instrumental in breaking the mold to allow you to become who you are today?

The arts saved my life. I was a latch-key kid, an only child growing up in the city. Participating in choirs and theater in after-school programs not only kept me busy, but also helped me excel in school. Knowing as a young student that my good grades, gave me access to special field trips with the choir was an added incentive.

In high school, my English teacher, Mrs. Loucks, was also the Speech/Debate and Theater teacher. It is through her guidance, that I learned the value of leadership ( I was President of both groups) and was able to hone my creative abilities. Without that experience, that teachers support, those high school programs that were supported by the Principal and the School Board – I WOULD NOT BE WHO AM I TODAY. Those creative experiences during the tumult of teenage maturation, ground me and gave me an outlet that is of value to this day.

How are the arts re-igniting your community and sparking innovation and creativity in your local schools?

In the community of Brooklyn artists are abundant; however, the role of arts within lower income public schools are quickly diminishing. Now that we’re fully ensconced in the digital age, we’ve allowed technology to replace the idea that culture access is a fundamental part of critical thinking and engaged learning. Occasionally, a group of artists will ignite a small program, like a pop-up exhibition of visual artists in the neighborhood, but these initiatives are becoming less and less. But when it does happen, you’ll see young and old, from all different backgrounds congregating and participating in whatever activities are offered. Rarely is any event meagerly attended.

Aya Arts and Media
Against the backdrop of historical moments of social change, Walk With Me follows three women who use theater to inspire, stir and animate our democracy. While at work in prisons, schools, and community centers, the film reveals that one person – one artist – can make a difference.

Testimonial #25: Annie Gordon, Performing Musician

“To have a career based solely in performing is no longer sustainable or relevant in today’s society and economy. I am proposing a paradigm shift. I propose that every musician out there, particularly those who define themselves as performers, recast themselves as performers and educators. We all have the responsibility of producing music of the highest quality and fostering the appreciation of that art.”

How are the arts re-igniting your community and sparking innovation and creativity in your local schools?

The classical music world is facing a crisis. Audiences and general appreciation for our art are dwindling drastically, orchestras are folding left and right, and money is tight in the majority of musicians’ pockets. The average partron’s age is on the rise and will continue this way until, inevitably, it cannot rise any further. Many arts journalists and commentators are speculating on the “death” of the classical music audience (click here for related article that summarizes the situation).

This is old news. Many already have conceived and enacted innovative action plans, but most plans call for external, perhaps superficial, change. Freshen up the concert repertoire; change up concert venues; liven up performances; integrate alternate art forms; make the concert experience more accessible to the general public. These solutions, however, are only band-aid solutions that avoid the more pressing, fundamental change that is needed. Both the problem and the solution to the classical music conundrum lie deep-rooted in the very definition of what it means to be a “musician.”

The future attendance that we do not want in our concert halls

Today, the definition of musician is pigeonholed to encompass only one, highly specialized skill: performer, theorist, composer, historian. That’s the problem. As musicians, we are preventing our own art from flourishing because we do not value with equal intensity our roles as music educators and mentors. To have a career based solely in performing is no longer sustainable or relevant in today’s society and economy. I am proposing a paradigm shift. I propose that every musician out there, particularly those who define themselves as performers, recast themselves as performers and educators. We all have the responsibility of producing music of the highest quality and fostering the appreciation of that art.

The role of educator can take many forms — a tutor to private music students, an elementary school band director — but the definition is by no means limited to these roles. To my mind, a music educator spreads awareness and appreciation for classical music as an art form and is a “music mentor” to someone less knowledgeable about classical music.

This semester I am the only student enrolled in the course titled “Music in the Urban Schools.” This fact comes as no surprise, in light of the unfortunate fact that music education classes, and the education field in general, carry a stigma among performance degree students studying at conservatories. Careers in education are generally regarded as back-up plans, and music education classes are viewed as irrelevant to those in hot pursuit of a career in performance, composition, or theory. It is time to let go of the utterly backwards stigma against music education within the conservatory setting.

Now more than ever, with the pressing issues of failing orchestras and lack of societal interest in the “high” arts, music educators are our most valuable commodities. And our most important consumers are children. Children are the future audience members and supporters of our art, and yet they are incredibly malnourished in the arena of classical music. We wonder why our society is overly saturated with “popular” art forms. These are the artists who are baiting children with their convenient accessibility. Pop artists are lucky that their art is much more easily understood, but with a little TLC, ours could be as well.

Every individual’s spin on the role of a “music mentor” will and should be different. Some musicians do well teaching in a classroom setting, others in a private lesson setting. Both are fantastic and effective ways to reach out to young children, and foster awareness and appreciation of classical music. Yet others may not feel so comfortable in these roles, and we need to broaden our sense for what can be an opportunity to spread appreciation. The same goals can be accomplished outside of the teacher-student relationship, as well. I implore musicians with personality types less conducive to teaching to consider more personal music mentoring relationships with individuals.

The educator’s role for a musician should extend to all of those moments of contact with young people, and in fact with adults. So the ideal paradigm shift eliminates the mindset that outreach is a one-time requirement, an onerous contractual stipulation for a performance position. Yes, we see it as an obligation and not an opportunity to help our entire field — we see it as a graduation requirement for a conservatory, or a contract requirement for an orchestral musician.

The danger of course is that single events create little lasting impression and, at worst, bore children and dissuade them from taking an interest in the art. The most rewarding experiences come from long-term, well-developed mentor relationships. The key is creating a contagious atmosphere of love and respect for music. So outreach events should only be prelude to cultivating deeper, lasting contact. That more enduring relationship is accomplished through enthusiasm and recognition of one’s role as a source of stability, creativity, and artistic growth in students’ lives. No one person can change the world, and no one musician can change the trend of declining audiences and declining interest. However, if we want to change the state of the field, we must realize that this change first begins with ourselves and our mindset.

The Classical Musician’s Paradigm Shift appeared in The Muse Dialogue

Testimonial #24: Susan Chase, Actress/Playwright

“Here’s the amazing thing. . . I got past my crippling shyness and began to enjoy performing, enjoy telling a story in a way that moved my audience.”

How has your life been indelibly touched by a teacher who utilized the arts for whatever reason and acknowledge how they were instrumental in breaking the mold to allow you to become who you are today?
This is such a great question — and it really takes me back! I was a terribly shy child, a straight “A” student, but I was terrified whenever I had to speak in front of my peers. In 5th grade I had the distinct good fortune to be placed in Mr. Cardinal’s class. Mr. Cardinal was an unusually demanding teacher. Not only did he require the quotidian research papers and essays, but he insisted that we do in-class presentations on all our papers. He even graded us using a “performance” rubric. It is so long ago, that I don’t remember every element of the rubric. But I do recall “Has good posture” and “Makes eye contact with the audience” and “Uses a range of emotions and colors in his/her speech.”

This was all absolutely horrifying to me! I worked so hard on my papers and continued to get “A”s on my written work. But this grade would be averaged with my presentation grade — and I found myself receiving “B”s for the first time in my life. Speaking in front of others was sheer torture for me. I could only do it by staring out into space and mechanically delivering the words I had memorized.

After a month or so of accepting my fate as a “B” student, I finally determined that I would rise to the challenge and meet the requirements of the performance rubric. At first I did it artificially — I would arbitrarily select moments to raise or lower my vocal pitch; I would contrive an emotion and try to sustain it during a section of my presentation. But here’s the amazing thing: eventually this became natural! I got past my crippling shyness and began to enjoy performing, enjoy telling a story in a way that moved my audience.

I don’t reflect on my 5th grade experience all that often. But when I do, I always find myself thinking, “I bet I never would have had the skills or confidence to go into theatre if it hadn’t been for Mr. Cardinal.”

How are the arts re-igniting your community and sparking innovation and creativity in your local schools?
As an actress/playwright, I am fortunate to be a frequent “artist in residence” in my local schools. This has afforded me a unique vantage from which to witness children growing and flourishing. It is certainly challenging to select just one or two stories from the many transformative moments I have witnessed — but I will try.

Several years ago I staged a play with a group of students in a special school for children with psychiatric issues. One of my lead actors was a young adolescent who came from a tragic family background. His father had been killed in a car accident, leaving his mother so profoundly depressed that she was unable to care for her children. This boy came into the classroom very sad and very angry. But working day-by-day on a character allowed him to explore his positive emotions. He played a variety of characters, all of them strong, noble, good-hearted. His mother attended a performance. After watching her “troubled” son’s performance, she decided that he wasn’t so troubled after all and that she was ready to take him back home with her. This family re-unification was facilitated, in part, by the son’s growth through the arts and his mother’s observation of that growth.

I will share one other story — different — but equally compelling. A few years ago I taught in a locked facility for juvenile sexual perpetrators. In a class of young men aged 17-20, I was somewhat intimidated until I bonded with Nate,* the alpha male of the group, who instantly fell in love with acting. One day a group of students were improvising a scene and I could not fully understand them because they were using urban dialect — completely appropriate to the scene, but sadly inaccessible to me. Without saying a word, Nate moved himself next to me and calmly, quietly, without the slightest trace of irony or condescension, translated his friends’ dialect into standard English so I could understand and respond to it. He single-handedly blew away the barriers of age, race, and socioeconomic status! This showed remarkable awareness and sensitivity on his part. This is all the more stunning when one considers that this young man was a sexual perpetrator. One of the common assumptions about sexual perpetrators is that they “lack empathy for their victims.” Yet in this instance, Nate* recognized and empathized with my discomfort and was able to ease this discomfort by bridging the gap between me and my students.

In both these instances, in fact, in every school residency I have completed, the remark I heard constantly from the classroom teachers was, “Thank you so much for letting me see my students in a new light.” These teachers, who daily confront learning disabilities and behavioral challenges, were thrilled to have a guest in their classroom who elicited their student’s strengths, rather than their weaknesses.

* Name changed

Marisa Vitali: Life Imitating Art: This is NOT an Act

Marisa Vitali
“It’s been a long road . . . but there is actually a moment when you choose to say, ‘THIS is what I’m going to be doing with the rest of my life.’”
A successful actress, voiceover artist, and producer in New York City, Marisa Vitali’s Long Island roots established the foundation to be where she is today. The arts were always a large part of her growing up; frequent trips to the city were a staple of family outings including visits to museums, attending the theater, coupled with fond memories as a nine-year-old staying up late on school nights to attend the opera with her dad at the Met (even though she would fall asleep before the end of the opera). And Christmas was not officially launched without seeing The Nutcracker at New York City Ballet. In addition to these family forays, her k-12 education in the Northport School District included an abundance of music and art programs having had access to choirs, orchestras, bands, musicals, and a theater program experience that was both a curriculum track and an after-school musical club: “I couldn’t even imagine what public school would be like without an arts program. For me, it’s like – our human spirit is the spirit of creativity and so to not have an outlet for that – to not have a place to cultivate that – I just don’t know what that human experience would be like and I can’t say it’s one that I would want to live.”

In fact, she credits the arts for saving her life. Despite her acceptance to the prestigious New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Marisa’s life spiraled into the world of drug addiction. Stemming from childhood bullying and feelings of inadequacy Marisa’s drinking and drugging became the means to self-medicate that pain: “For me, having that first drink [became] the first time . . . I didn’t feel that pain. I don’t need to feel inferior, I’m not good enough. I don’t belong.” Going to clubs consumed her seven days a week. Despite this lifestyle, she excelled in all of her studies. Scheduling classes early in the day would accommodate her party existence to maintain her Dean’s list status. But when heroin became the drug of choice, Marisa’s existence became a vicious cycle of finding the next high. After years of denial, Marisa hit bottom and decided to get clean. At the time, the only promising venture she could imagine for herself was to sell perfume at a department store and “not that there’s anything wrong with working at Bloomie’s, but to think that a University graduate with a BFA was as big as I could comprehend at that time when I first got clean.” This was when her mentor, Lawrence Sacharow, a Broadway director, suggested she get back into acting: “It was the most healing experience I’ve ever had. . . and in that moment I realized that, for me, that was what I had to live for. At that point in time, that was the reason for me to stay clean and not go back to using.”

Utilizing the skills she learned from her years of study at NYU and taking acting classes at Michael Howard Studio, Marisa found it to be “the most therapeutic way to process my emotions.” After years of feeling disillusioned, she was determined to use this skill set in a positive way. “It’s kind of like when the head and the heart come together at one point; acting, for me, isn’t about performing, a performance. For me, it’s about the journey; for me, it’s about having an experience in that moment in time. As an actor I want to tell stories, and I think that the more life experience you can bring to your story the more full that story can be told.”

Having been through so much Marisa used that life experience to culminate in the creation of the film Grace, a screenplay by Chris Ordal, an award-winning director and screenwriter. The story is inspired by Marisa’s first year clean where the main character, Janice, finds herself back at home, poor, waitressing at the local diner and in a custody battle for her daughter. Faced with the truth of the wreckage of her past, she must cope with a series of events that transpire without going back to using drugs. What is of upmost importance to Marisa is that the film “starts the conversation of recovery between addicts and addicts; non-addicts and non-addicts.” Her desire is to use it as a teaching tool because “art is healing and what’s the best conversation starter other than the amazing piece of art or whatever forms that may be to get people to feel comfortable; to start talking.”

As for the vital importance of an arts education, Marisa argues that who among us hasn’t had to speak in front of an audience be it a committee or interview? Who doesn’t give a toast at a wedding which requires that poise and confidence to deliver? “The Arts,” Marisa asserts,” allows you to be who you are and accepts you regardless.” Moreso, the arts, “whether it be an art class, a play, or music — is an outlet for that emotion, for that feeling.” And like life imitating art: this is NOT an act.

Marisa Vitali

Check out the Sizzlin’ Fireworks Issue of the 2013 Summer Issue of GEM Magazine