Testimonial #8: Theresa Salerno

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, to me, growing up was my savior. Being able to perform and take myself out of my world to be in another was life saving to me. I enjoyed so much all of my school musicals. I also enjoyed the flute, marching at Hofstra with my sax, and my weekly piano lessons. I truly feel without my music and performing I would have never made it. As you read along your notes on a page you are instantly into the magic of the arts.

I also feel that music will heal you. To this day, I am thankful that I was able to enjoy and appreciate the gift of music .With this blog you can make a difference and leave your foot print on this earth to let people know that there is hope. Many kids today don’t have an out. Music and performing must go on!!!! Maybe it will help them to escape from the real world for a little and have fun exploring another.

Testimonial #7: Thomas Guglielmo, Professional Clown for Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey Circus

How has your life beenindelibly touched by a teacher who utilized the arts for whatever reason andacknowledge how they were instrumental in breaking the mold to allow you tobecome who you are today?

A teacher that touched mylife. . . Mrs. Fran McGarry along with Dr. Stephen C. Porter were instrumentalin imparting confidence, direction, motivation, and meaning through theirknowledge, dedication, and practice of teaching through the Arts. They weredirectly responsible for my decision to pursue my dream and achieve thedistinction of becoming the youngest person accepted to the prestigious Ringling Clown Collegeand subsequently become the youngest clown to perform for the Greatest Show onEarth. A decade of achievement in the entertainment industry is directly aresult of the patience, dedication, and caring of teachers such as these. Mylife continues today and the lessons learned carry over into every area of mylife.

Remembering those Dog Days of Summer . . . or What I Did Over My Summer Vacation

They say that when one doorcloses, another opens.  Read about mypersonal predicament of joining the ranks of the unemployed in an articlepublished in the November 2011 issue of Incite/Insight. 

I hope it will provide alittle inspiration for anyone facing challenges in this [non-existent] jobmarket and that there is light at the end of the tunnel:

As an educator, summers were always a time to leisurely pursueprofessional enrichment, read junk novels, and capture the calm breezes of theseason. Not unlike T.S. Eliot’s Prufrock whose life was “measured in coffeespoons,” my teacher’s existence was structured into 42-minute segments, 5 daysa week, 10 months a year, carefully pacing myself to the next day off tore-boot my energy. This inner balance worked for me for over 30 years.When I left teaching behind to pursue other goals, it was challenging, yetthrilling. How would I monitor the next 30 years of my life?
Using the lyrics from the Spice Girls’“Wannabe” tune as a source of inspiration, I sought to reinvent myself witheach new endeavor with the query: So, tell me what you want, what you reallyreally want? With every new day, I wanted …
To be acollege professor!
To devise a newcurriculum!
To serve as aneducation director for arts organizations!
To presentworkshops at conferences!
To teachteachers!
To work withyoung people and promote their voices throughplaywriting!
As I successfully transitioned from onecreative pursuit to the next, I finally landed a job as an education director;no sooner did I begin to savor the challenges of this career phase when theposition was eliminated due to budget constraints in March of 2011. I shouldhave seen it coming; the handwriting was on the wall: continued budget cuts,declining arts funding, selectively competitive grant awards. Schools, thoughsupportive, were unable to allot monies and relinquish class time for artsprogramming. Despite acknowledging its merits, schoolsperceive such programs as “extras” and they easily become targeted to reduceexpenses with the rationale that donations from philanthropic patrons wouldreplace any losses. Sounds like a feasible compromise until you begin to thinkabout the long-term effects. I’ll come back to that dilemma, later. Stay withme.
So, here I was, at age 60, unemployedwith a Ph.D. and over 30 years teaching experience, with no prospects, or so itfelt at the time—after all, this was during the highest unemployment rate inour nation’s recent history. In this economic downturn, who would hire me atthis stage of my life? I sulked … for an entire week lapsing into a regimen ofeating Mallomars with a quart of milk. After glutting myself with such internal pleasures, I took astep back and asked: So tell me what you want, what you really really want?
Within the soul of every teacher lies adeep commitment to making our world a better place to live in by educating ourfuture citizens—those young minds whose imagination and talent shape the nextgeneration. It has always been my strong belief that the arts define ourhumanity, and that they are an empowering supernatural gift givento us in order to make our world a richer better place to live.

So. Now. What. Are. You. Going. To. Do?

It was time to put my [unemployment]money where my mouth was and take charge. Subverting all fears aside, “Whatmakes you think you can make a difference?” echoed in my psyche. I was remindedhow I used it as a mantra for all my students—why not for me?
After an acting stint in an Off-Broadwayproduction of The Vagina Monologues, I realized the only way to moveforward and effectively utilize my time and talent would be through thecreation of a professional website. Thus began an arduous two-month examinationof the scope and scale of my career arc. As a result of this self-reflection, Iwas able to define my next challenge: to authenticate the arts and alter its perception as an amenity. I started tocollect stories of artists “in the trenches,” so to speak, who were makingthings work and garnering amazing outcomes: 12-year-old Olivia Bouler of Islip,Long Island, who raised more than $175,000 for the Audubon Society; an Artspaceloft to energize Patchogue, Long Island; the Airmid Theatre Company working withNew York Assemblyman Steven Englebright to create a permanent theatre space on the sprawlingformer grounds of the Kings Park Psychiatric Center.
On a national scale, I was horrified andoutraged by a particular story related by Erika Nelson, an artist in Lucas, KS who makes miniature models ofgiant pieces of Americana, puts them in a van, and drives around the country toshow people. She called her mobile museum “The World’s Largest Collection ofthe World’s Smallest Versions of the World’s Largest Things.” But this year,Kansas, which has one of the country’s smallest state artsbudgets, decided to shrink it even further, to zero, cutting off all ofNelson’s state support. This was just one story among many. While nationaladvocacy groups fight to keep the arts as a core mission of the government, therising sentiment is that it’s an optional staple of sustenance. Instead oftaking polite nibbles to offset this spiraling trend, I decided to bite back!
Since the launch of my website in lateAugust, I’ve initiated The First 100 Stories Campaign, entered blogs onsubjects ranging from literacy, CORE standards, and professional development,and proposed an education program for class field trips to the 9-11 memorial.Additionally, I conducted two interviews for First Online With Fran: atalk show solely dedicated to honoring ordinary people doing extraordinarythings in the arts to make our world a deeper, better place to live. Soundslofty, doesn’t it?

Alas, it’s the stuff that dreams are madeof.
And THAT is what I did over my summervacation.
More to come. Stay tuned.
Frances McGarry, Ph.D. has been teachingtheatre for more than 30 years. The Young Playwrights Festivalin New York City became the subject of her doctoral dissertationin the Program of Educational Theater at New York University. She haspresented Young Playwrights Inc.’s Write A Play! curriculum at local,regional, and national conferences. Her new website, http://www.francesmcgarry.com offers discussions on how practitionersare utilizing the arts to make our world a richer, deeper better place to live.

Testimonial #6: Irene Sole

How has your life been indeliblytouched by a teacher who utilized the arts for whatever reason and acknowledgehow they were instrumental in breaking the mold to allow you to become who youare today?

Dr. Brann Wry,Director of the Performing Arts Administration program at NYU. He brought thereal life challenges that Arts organizations have in the economy and how we, asArts advocates, can meet those challenges with sound business decisions inorder to perpetuate a thriving Arts community.

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

Frankly, I’dlike to see more emphasis on Arts programming in the local and borough levels.I’d like to see a broad spectrum of neighborhoods involved in local projectssuch as theatrical and musical performances and visual displays of creativeprojects. There are pockets of these projects around the Boroughs but it needsto become more widespread which will enable a wider participation to explorecreativity. The flip side has equal importance by the exposure to Art and tosee the creative experience manifested. Therefore, striving toward theobjective to instill the understanding of the need and importance of Art in ourlives.

Testimonial #5: Rachelle Bradt, RB Learning Environments

How has your life beenindelibly touched by a teacher who utilized the arts for whatever reason andacknowledge how they were instrumental in breaking the mold to allow you tobecome who you are today?

Art was part of everythingwe did in Miss Kieser’s classroom, where I spent a wonderful time from grades 1through 3.  She played the piano and we learned to sing in tune. She was drawing on thechalkboard and we were all drawing in our notebooks. Then some words wereadded, and we started to write. Everybody learned to read and write. The notion that someone might not [readand write], didn’t even occur to us. We had no art teacher, because everyteacher had to know art.

We had a huge sandbox in the classroom in which we put mountains and rivers,houses, people and animals. They all had to be counted; that’s how we learnedmath.

I’ll never forget when she came [to class] with a chocolate bar that had to be divvied upamong all the children in the class. That’s how we learned division.

Art was part of everything we did. And Miss Kieser drew me a fabulous colorpencil study of two shells along with a poem by a famous poet (Eichendorff):

“There is a song that sleeps in all things,
As they linger in their dream.
And the world will start a-singing,
Once you’ll find its magic beam.”

And it did.

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

“I learned how to be areal artist. I will remember everything we did.I was trying to do my best butit wasn’t easy because I had never done that before, but you showed me.” (Carla,4thgrade student, PS 132, Manhattan)

“I have learned a lot about my students’ interests and needs. The sketchbooks are a wonderful tool for teaching and have encouraged writing immensely.(Juan Paredes, 4th grade teacher, PS 115, Manhattan)

“My students are paying more attention to detail! They have become visualthinkers. They approach my projects with much more confidence and have reallytaken art seriously as a subject. (Integrating art making with reading andwriting ) has changed the way that I teach my students.” (Wiley Nelson, ArtSpecialist, PS 8, Manhattan).