How The Arts Transformed My Life…

Well, I for one know that the arts have SAVED my life. Growing up in Harlem in the 70′s wasn’t exactly a picnic and so the chance to attend one of the most revered high schools in New York, The High School of Music & Art, was not only a dream come true but an eye-opening experience. It was my first time being exposed to students from all walks and not just the neighborhood. It truly was the most wonderful experience of my young life. I still have so many friends from M&A – we were and are a very special group. I studied voice and somehow, all these years, always managed (while holding a professional job) to be in band, or a jazz trio, or to coach, or be an inspiration. I perform cabaret in the city and have recently inspired a few old classmates to get back on stage! While live music, especially live jazz, has taken a bit of a beating, there is nothing like being on stage and doing a show. Not just singing at a bar or restaurant – I mean booking a room and giving a show. Rehearsal is therapy. Sending out invites and “save-the-date” cards is so exciting. The anticipation of show time. It’s just the greatest feeling in the world. I perform at one particular venue several times a year and my “following” know what to expect when they get that invite: a show they’ll never forget. It’s my gift to myself as well as to my audience when i hit that first note. I wish there was more time and money to do it more often. Like I said live music is a tough sell these days. But I take what I can get gladly and with such pride.

Without the Arts, It’s Not Education

WE know there’s a drama, art, music, dance, classroom teacher who changed your life.  Every educator knows that within EACH and EVERY child lies an artistic soul waiting to be sparked.  SEND ME YOUR TESTIMONIAL:  How your third grade teacher taught you to write your first play, fingerprinting your fears away on an oily white sheet of paper, dance to the beat of your own drum, strum, blow, sing the lyrics that express your point of view.

Earlier this spring Secretary of Education Arne Duncan wrote that “dance, music, theater, and visual arts” are essential to preparing our nation’s young people for a global economy fueled by innovation and creativity.” That may be the case, but thanks to education funding cuts, the arts are being systematically stripped from our schools. According to creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson, what’s left can hardly be called an education.

“We may be providing something else, but it’s not what we want to think of as education,” Robinson told attendees at the recent Action Children’s Art Conference in the U.K. Instead, says Robinson, our children are growing up in a fast-paced world “that’s becoming more standardized,” which means kids “live within education cultures that are more prone to testing, to conformity, and to compliance than ever before.” Read more


Lorna Kneeland on the blog of 4Culture [cultural services agency for King County, WA], 7/30/12
In the past few years, there has been a fair amount of public attention (but not enough) on the dire state and inequity of arts learning for K-12 students. The expectation that arts are an essential aspect to student education has been lost. This year in Seattle, not a single arts organization was deemed qualified for the Families and Education Levy. This is surprising given the great deal of research demonstrating the strong link that arts education has to academic success and social development. Now, let me turn this depressing train of thought around…Despite the cuts, I strongly feel that we are approaching a tipping point that has the possibility of pushing this train in the other direction. Malcolm Gladwell writes in his book The Tipping Point
“… in order to create one contagious movement, you often have to create many small movements first…The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.”
Nationally and locally, big and small collaborative movements are happening that are generating momentum to put arts learning back on track. Perhaps the largest local movement on this front is the Seattle K-12 Arts Learning Collaborative. The goal of this citywide effort is that all students in all Seattle Public Schools (SPS) have opportunities to learn through the arts, to succeed in school and in life. The community has come together in a powerful way — driven by the Seattle Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs and SPS with parents, the funding community and arts leaders such as Arts Corps, ArtsEd Washington, Arts Impact, PONCHO [Patrons of Northwest Civic, Cultural and Charitable Organizations] and Seattle Art Museum leading and owning the charge.
First Online With Fran: The First 100 Stories Campaign National Arts in Education Week, September 11-17

In July 2010, Congress designated the second week of September as National Arts In Education Week (add link) to promote and showcase the immense role arts education has in producing engaged, successful, and college and career-ready students. To that end, First Online with Fran is launching The First 100 Stories Campaign.

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 budgetary solution remains to be that the arts are perceived as extra-curricular and disposable. In Chris Cleave’s novel Little Bee, the central character decided to right a wrong by collecting stories: “One story makes you weak. But as soon as we have one-hundred stories, you will be strong.” Similarly, we can do the same for the Arts. Here’s how: 

Let’s hear it from you: Teachers! Students! Graduates! Parents! Artists!
Fill out the form to submit your testimonial!

The First 100 Stories

Testimonial #11:  Ronni Hubbard

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?

In high school I was a chameleon. I would mold into whatever I felt would make me more interesting and likeable. I had no passion , goals or dreams. I went with the flow . . . until I discovered theatre. I took theatre just because I thought it would be fun and easy. It was fun and easy; again I went with the flow, never giving it my all or trying very hard . A circumstance happened that would change my life and path forever. The class was putting on a production of “Vanities”;  one of the leads in the 3 person play was unable to perform. The play opened in less than a week and I was asked to step in and perform. I was told by my teacher I could do it; she had faith in me. She worked with me right up until opening night . She believed in me like no one ever had. She told me I had talent. I actually believe her. I stood on the stage opening night, listening to the applause and had a feeling like no other . My teacher told me I needed to keep going with this. I was different. Again, I believed her. I had all intentions of going to a NY state school, playing a sport I had been given a scholarship for and majoring in ummmmmm “NO CLUE”. I decided just for the heck of it I would audition for a theatre school . This amazing teacher helped me pick out monologues, work on the monologues, pick a song and gave me the self confidence to go and audition for a top theatre school. Every student auditioning was from performing arts high schools. Every student had a resume that had numerous productions. I had 1 show and no training but I had a little voice that said, ” I was different.” I got in and graduated with my BFA in Theatre arts from The University Of The Arts in Philadelphia. I am a 42 year old woman today that is not currently participating in the theatre; however my experience with the arts has changed me, gave me a self confidence, a voice, an identity and made me into the best version of me . I know I will participate again one day in theatre . I know this because a wise teacher told me ” I was different and I could do anything I put my mind to.” This amazing woman, teacher, was Frances McGarry.

Testimonial #9: Chelsea Hoffman

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?

Photo by the lovely Shannon Davies

My life has been shaped by many teachers, all of whom left an indelible impression on my life. I remember one of my first acting lessons came from sitting in on Dr. McGarry’s class – I couldn’t have been more than 6 or 7 years old. The students, all in High School, were playing an improv game that I was allowed to join in on, and the scene I was given was a driver that was pulled over by a policeman. At that age, I was prone to fits of giggles whenever in the presence of an older and therefore obviously cooler kid (luckily I grew out of it!) and couldn’t stop giggling. Dr. McGarry told me to think about the relationship and the situation – if a policeman pulled me over, would I really giggle? Probably not – I would be terrified! This small but valuable lesson has stuck with me, along with countless others in my time in both public school and then later Drama School at NYU’S Tisch School of the Arts

How are the artsre-igniting your community and sparking innovation and creativity in your localschools?

 The Arts are so incrediblyimportant to our children and our schools. I currently live abroad, and peopleare always shocked and jealous when I tell them that I was able to studycontemporary drama, Shakespeare, jazz, electronic music, and audio engineeringall in my public school. Here, if a child wants to pursue ant of those things,it has to be done on their own time.

What many people don’trealize is how applicable skills gained in the arts are to jobs outside theaccepted creative field. Besides the obvious connection between drama andpublic speaking – think how often people are asked to give presentations in ALLwalks of life, and how dull they can be if the person has no sense of audience- the arts teach problem solving, critical thinking, and gives tools on how toengage an audience. These are things that any businessperson would be well offto have in their repertoire. Music has been shown to improve math ability, anddancing is a great way for the kid who may not be into competitive sports tostay fit. To use a terrible clichéd expression, if one thinks outside the boxjust a little one can see that the arts benefit students beyond making themmore cultured and sensitive individuals (traits that should not be overlooked).We are so lucky in our country to have the opportunity and the precedence tooffer education like this – we must take advantage of it.

Photo by the lovelyShannon Davies