Testimonial #28: Andrew Swensen, Publisher and Founder of The Muse Dialogue; Producer of Journey to Normal: Women of War Come Home; Executive Director of the Pittsburgh Youth Chamber Orchestra, and Program Manager of the Pittsburgh Music Alliance

How are the arts re-igniting your community and sparking innovation and creativity in your local schools?
I have been especially impressed with the programs in both music and the visual arts in our local schools (North Allegheny School District in the Greater Pittsburgh area of PA). The choral program in my daughter’s school, for example, has grown so large that the school auditorium can no longer accommodate the crowds of families that come to the concerts. The orchestra program is likewise so robust that each grade has its own string orchestra. The schools certainly have their all subjects covered well, and we have our share of frustrations over the focus on standardized tests. However, the fact is that the arts give the schools their vibrancy and their life. The halls are filled with visual arts projects, and the school calendar is filled with concerts of one sort or another. I fully support the endorsement of all subjects, and recognize how important it is to have a balanced education that includes math, natural sciences, and social sciences. Yet the arts provide the vision, the imagination and the perspective that allow us to understand and appreciate the humanity of the human experience in all its area of activity.

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?
Interestingly, I would point to my sixth-grade teacher and her love of reading stories to our class. Surely others who read this question will think of an influential painting teacher or someone who elevated their skills on a musical instrument. Yet after thinking about this question, I keep coming back to Miss Bower and her love of literature.

I had read books before, but the truth is that I had never really appreciated the nature of storytelling and the power of literature until I heard her read something to us. It is one thing to have your eyes cross the page, to have your mind absorb the facts of a narrative. Yet Miss Bower changed everything for us — and now in our 40s, we still talk about her to this day — because she unlocked the power of imagination in a new way. It was this changed perspective on the nature of narrative and narration that really shaped my love of literature and film for all of the years since.

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