Coping with Covid-19: Just Get Messy!

An interview with children’s author Rita Meade

The impact of reading out loud books to kids is transformative in so many different ways.  Children respond differently to the “messy message” and extrapolate solutions for Edward’s dilemma.

Covid-19 has changed our lives forever; in fact, it could be devastating. But Rita Meade’s prescient message in her 2016 award-winning book Edward Gets Messy offers a way for us to cope with the stress and confusion of social distancing by delving into our artistic souls to discover a stronger, self-confident version of our selves.

Without giving a spoiler alert, the story features Edward the pig who never EVER gets messy.  But what happens when a big tub of paint falls on Edward’s perfectly neat little head?  Getting messy has its upsides, too. Here’s how this metaphorical spin of spilled paint can offer us some perspective during this pandemic…

The Arts helps you do well academically Over the course of Rita’s educational K-12 journey, she participated in numerous art-related programs from elementary school enrichment activities to singing in the choir, learning to play musical instruments, to performing in high school children’s theatre productions.  All of this accumulated academic knowledge coalesced to help her to see the importance of children’s literature and how it could impact people’s lives. 

Despite her passion for pursuing acting as a career, she always loved telling stories. By “taking all the experiences from high school and beyond” she channeled her performance skills to be a children’s librarian and picture book author.  One of her favorite parts of being a children’s book author was visiting schools and interacting with children. The “impact of reading out loud books to kids is transformative in so many different ways.” 

Photo credit M. Bialaszewski

Children respond differently to the “messy message” and extrapolate solutions for Edward’s dilemma:  “Well, he can take a bath!” They insightfully perceive the situation as temporary and that this, too, will pass.  Ah, a lesson we can all embrace during this viral pandemic. Perhaps, we can all take stock of where we are academically in our lives and how we can use this time to reassess where our talents lie and weigh-in on where life will take us after the “paint has been spilled” ? Look to the future. You might just be surprised at the possibilities of seeking new career paths? New alternatives to adapting skill sets you might have otherwise shelved? After earning her Masters in teaching English Rita believed that this was the logical career path; to her dismay it was not.  And why . . .

The Arts strengthens problem solving and critical thinking skills.  For an A-Type personality demanding perfection, Rita, as you can imagine, was absolutely distraught. Resisting her mother’s earlier suggestion to become a public librarian Rita decided to give it a try.  She attended Queen’s College to earn a Master’s degree in Library Science.  “This is it!” eventually leading her to her current employment at Brooklyn Public Library. There were many “ups and downs,” along the way but Rita “learned a lot [through her failures and successes].”  Having to close the library due to the coronavirus was a paradox for her:  continue to comply with her conviction that libraries serve as centers of communities or close for the safety and well-being of its patrons?  Similarly, this juxtaposed Edward’s challenging crossroad to either wallow in the inevitable or rise to the occasion? When all programs had been cancelled, on the day before the library closed, Rita brought her guitar for children to strum, sing, and savor the joys of music.  During the session one little boy remarked how it was “the first time [he] ever played a guitar!”  By adjusting inevitable outcomes of separation from her prodigies, Rita realized how “the Arts change people’s brains in good way; it inspires hope, really. What else are we trying to do, you know?”  So, use this time of separation to shift gears:  think about taking out that guitar, the recorder you had in first grade, playing the piano.  Listen to your favorite tunes that got you to think about the world in a way that moved you to dance and celebrate life! Music will not only soothe your soul and ease your troubled thoughts, but also wipe away some of those cobwebs:  reading music, listening, BEING.   Memorize lines from a favorite poem. Read a play.  Sort through your bookshelf.  Re-read some of your favorite texts.  Remind yourself of what you once knew and valued.  Revisit that file of shelved things to do…

The Arts helps you to express your emotions.  Publishing a book is an arduous process. It requires trust, perseverance and humility.  Despite having a clear vision for the book, Rita learned to express her emotions through her art:   “It’s a lot of vulnerability . . . and you have to grow a thick skin.”  Besides trusting her editor with revisions, she had to learn to let go of some of her ideas.  For example, Rita had initially wanted the story to take place in a library, but after an exchange with the professionals, Rita decided to trust their judgement.   Kristin [her editor] gave her “a lot of great changes; a lot of great editing that [she] wouldn’t have thought of [herself]. Ultimately, it made the story better.”  Coping with criticism is another challenge. “People are going to read the book and will have opinions,” she said, “and you can’t control that.  Once the book goes out into the world it doesn’t belong to the writer; it belongs to the reader now.”   This was a challenge for Rita since she “sometimes just wants people to like [her].”  Trying to please others has always been part of her nature, but she knew it was something she needed to overcome.  And she did! “I can’t take it all personally . .  . [I’ll] just try to absorb all the good stuff and not the negative stuff.”  Good advice to heed during our solitary quarantine.  Sometimes, being alone allows us to be still, be patient, and listen.  Take a personal inventory of where you are at this stage of your life.  How much have you grown emotionally? What regrets can be amended? Introspection can offer time to examine our behaviors and what motivates us to be who we are. Make a list. What do you like about yourself? What do you need to change? What are some of your fears? Anxieties that keep you from taking a leap to a new job? Starting a new relationship?  Carpe Diem! Seize the day like Edward and Rita, to “[be] distraught and unsure of what to do…But Wait . . . “

The Arts gives you confidence.  Visiting schools has served to instill and inspire young audiences.  “If I can do it, “she says to her young charges, “you can do it. “ By being “live” Rita de-mystifies the persona of the author:  “Authors aren’t these mystical creatures; we’re people just like YOU!”  It is instilling this kind of confidence that made one child exclaim, “Now I want to write a book because I know that you did!”  To offer some sustainability once she has left the classroom, Rita provides her contact information to encourage her young prodigies to keep in touch.  For this teacher of Rita Meade, there is nothing more satisfying than to have a former student acknowledge how I might have played a part in the pursuit of her career. And why, during the corona virus we can look back on those teachers whose lessons have long ago shaped who we are and are grateful for their tutelage.  Write a note to that teacher.  Look them up on social media.  Thank them for their “art” of molding you into the human being you are today.  And why…

The Arts are an investmentNikki Haley former UN Ambassador recently shot off a tweet denouncing the emergency funding given to the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the Kennedy Center as irresponsible and queried:  “How many more people could have been helped with this money?”  Rita would definitively tell her how “lucky she [Rita] is to see every day the difference that the arts make in children’s lives. . . if I’m doing story time or we’re doing an arts and crafts class you can see how it stimulates the children’s creativity and their thought processes and learning and just their emotional happiness.”  There is no doubt that the arts are fun for kids. Diving into those finger paints and making a beautiful picture to hang on the fridge is awesome. Acting in a play is exhilarating.  Ensure that they continue to shape and inspire our souls.  Use this time to donate to your favorite art institution, be it the playful Paperbag Players or Lincoln Center.  It’s what makes us humane. It is what will be our legacy.  We will survive this pandemic. With the Arts, anything is possible; because after all,   “Edward knows that it’s okay even for particular pigs to get messy. . . . “

Coda:  Frances McGarry, Ph.D. is a dedicated arts advocate committed to raising awareness of how The Arts Rejuvenate. The Arts Restore. The Arts are our Supernatural Gift.  It is the force that unites us as a single, breathing, living entity that connects every human being to be all that is good and pure.  She created a blog and podcast First Online With Fran to raise awareness of ordinary people doing extraordinary things in the Arts like Rita Meade and so many others. What will YOU do during this pandemic to make our world a richer, better place to be?

Rita Meade is a public librarian who lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. She has a background in youth services, has professionally reviewed children’s books for “School Library Journal,” and has written for literary sites including Book Riot and Reading Rainbow. Her debut picture book Edward Gets Messy was published in 2016 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers and in 2017, it won the first ever Anna Dewdney Read-Together Award which recognizes a picture book that is “both a superb read aloud and also sparks compassion, empathy, and connection.”

Email: RitaMeadeAuthor@gmail.com

Twitter: @ScrewyDecimal

Instagram: @ScrewyDecimal

Edward Gets Messy

Winner of The Anna Dewdney Read Together Award

School Library Journal ‘Popular Pick’ 

Atlanta Parent ‘Best Book’

References & Resources…

10 Reasons Why Arts in Education Is so Important for Kids

Is your student looking to become more involved in the arts? Not only do K12 online public schools offer their students art and music courses, K12 has individual art classes for purchase. For more information on K12  and our programs that encourage student involvement in the arts, you can contact our enrollment team at 877.895.1754 or request to receive more information online.

Americans For The Arts

There’s No Place Like Art…The Reviews at IN!

FOLWF Podcast Art



One week ago I launched my first podcast THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE ART and audiences are listening. How about YOU?

One week statistics: 277 views.

241 First Online With Fran blog listeners.

36 iTunes downloads. 

I am a new podcast fan, and a new Frances McGarry fan. Her enthusiasm for her work is infectious, and for me personally, inspiring. I hope y’all will check out her blog, and let’s help get these podcasts on the map! Congratulations and good luck on your new venture, lady! `Susan Keller, FB Blogger, Political Satirist, Mom
A review from one of my new listening fan, Susan Keller…

Susan KellerSeptember 13 at 11:59pm 

One of her missions, between her blog and podcasts, is to illustrate various ways that art complements and enhances our lives, our work, and our relationships. Art, as she puts it, isn’t merely an amenity – it is a vital contributor to society. Studying and participating in different areas of the arts enables us to understand ourselves better and can teach us invaluable interpersonal skills. Frances hopes to bring this concept to her audiences through the interesting first-person narratives of her guests.
I am a new podcast fan, and a new Frances McGarry fan. Her enthusiasm for her work is infectious, and for me personally, inspiring. I hope y’all will check out her blog, and let’s help get these podcasts on the map! Congratulations and good luck on your new venture, lady!

Arts as a solution – let’s start a movement!

Posted by Shoshana · Thursday, November 10th, 2016

Shoshana Fanizza
Chief Audience Builder, Audience Development Specialists

shoshana-fanizza

“The arts can be a healing agent and a solution to what we are experiencing. We need to heal the fear and create a more loving experience for all considered and for our planet.”

I woke up this morning realizing that major changes are coming to my country and to the world. We are all super connected now. What affects one will affect another. We are a global community.

The choice is ours to build from where we are. There are people that are afraid to move forward in our evolution of humanity, to be super inclusive, super kind, super supportive to others. They rather take time back when people did not have equal rights. What do we do with this fear that seems to have overtaken history once again?

We, the people that want to move forward, can still be who we are and continue our journey regardless. We can create art that speaks, music that emotes, theatre that connects to our souls, and dance that moves us.

The arts can be a healing agent and a solution to what we are experiencing. We need to heal the fear and create a more loving experience for all considered and for our planet.

Let’s use this moment in our history to strengthen us and launch a new movement of arts as a solution! People need arts to not only escape from their troubles, but to allow themselves to express and alleviate the pains of their lives. The arts matter more than ever now!

Arts as a solution! We got this!

Cheers to happy and loyal audiences,
Shoshana

 

The value of arts education

UCP_LEADsm_t640[1]

Katie Dees Arts education shouldn’t be considered an elective when so many studies show it boosts other skills.

 By Melissa Pranke

November 25, 2015 10:34 a.m.

 The arts are one of the most human of expressions. From the time we are small we love to sing, dance, draw and learn about others’ lives through drama. We are provoked and challenged through the arts.

Learning through the arts is not a luxury; it’s a necessity if we are to ensure the success of our students in the 21st century. When a group of international CEOs was asked to list the qualities they identified as most important for 21st century leaders, No. 1 on that list was creativity. Not work ethic or experience, but creativity because it encompasses using a logical thought process, creative problem solving skills and higher order thinking, all things regularly taught and encouraged in an arts based curriculum.

In 2000, Congress enacted the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, which identified the arts for the first time in federal policy as part of the core curriculum. Why then are visual arts, music and theater programs always first on the chopping block when schools have to make budget cuts?

Twenty-eight states require some study of the arts for high school graduation; yet the arts are still considered an elective, an afterthought, when policy makers write curriculum and strategies to advance the rigor and success of our 21st century school classrooms. Thousands of school-based arts programs have demonstrated beyond question that the arts not only bring coherence to an often-fragmented educational approach but through the arts we find student performance in all disciplines becomes enhanced. Visual arts, music and theater teachers daily ask their students to engage in learning activities that require use of higher-order thinking skills like analysis, synthesis and evaluation. Students of the arts continue to outperform their non-arts peers on the Scholastic Assessment Test. In 1995, SAT scores for students who studied the arts more than four years scored 59 points higher on the verbal portion and 44 points higher on the math portion than students with no coursework or experience in the arts (The College Board, profile of SAT and Achievement Test Takers, 1995).

In 2002, The Arts Education Partnership issued “Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development,” which summarized 62 studies. This has become one of the most recognized papers on the positive effects of the arts on cognitions, critical thinking, self worth and behavior.

In 2004, The Center for Arts Policy at Columbia College published “Putting the Arts in the Picture: Reframing Education in the 21st Century,” which emphasized a change from arts education to a more holistic approach of arts integration as “an interdisciplinary partner with other subjects.”

This was followed by a College Board report in 2008 “Arts at the Core,” from the National Task Force on the Arts in Education, citing now familiar research to “utilize arts programming as an effective tool to improve education in general and to achieve access and equity for all students”

These academic studies and research give overwhelming evidence of the connection between integrated arts curriculum and advanced student skill acquisition, achievement and knowledge that cannot be denied. But there is another side of this argument that while not academic is even more soulful and compelling than the factual data.

The arts are one of the most human of expressions. From the time we are small we love to sing, dance, draw and learn about others’ lives through drama. We are provoked and challenged through the arts. So, I invite you to think of the potential of each child, of your child, and ask yourself, why haven’t we acted on all this overwhelming and eloquent evidence? Imagination is an extraordinary human gift and, in my opinion, not something to take lightly or waste.

Testimonial #47: Katherine Elliot, Actor/Producer The Tempest Ladies

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?

Being artistic is just sort of in my blood, so I guess I was born with a broken mold. I was very lucky to have had some excellent and encouraging teachers when I was in school. I think the first one was the French teacher that I had from 6th to 8th grade who everyone called, Madame. She was fantastic. Every class was like watching a performance, and she could make us laugh while she was speaking a language that we didn’t know yet. Needless to say, her humor made me, and I’m sure most of the rest of the class, really want to understand what was going on. It made me want to learn French. Every day before class, we got to pick out what we wanted to wear. There were boas, berets, sparkly dresses, old suit jackets, flowers…all sorts of things. We were called by the French names we chose, and it was a blast. She knew that I liked art, and she was always encouraging me to utilize it.

A couple of years ago, I was taking an intensive at The Second City in Chicago, and I couldn’t believe it when I walked in and saw her sitting in my class. I also couldn’t believe that she actually remembered me after all of these years. It was a fun reunion, and we ended up carpooling to every class. She doesn’t teach anymore, but it made me really happy to know that she is still putting on performances.

Another standout for me is a professor that I had in graduate school (for English Literature; it wasn’t an art program) who came into my life at a time when I was on the verge of making some very big decisions. Allowing me to incorporate my artistic interests into the class may have tipped the scale that sent me rolling off to New York. There were many reasons that I chose to pursue the arts instead of getting a “real” job, but this professor really made it hit home how important the arts always have been throughout history, and still are to this day.

He would show us paintings that were painted at the same time that the books we were reading were written, which is typical to do from time to time in most literature classes, but this professor made it a focus. We would analyze paintings in the same way that we analyzed writing. We would find ways in which the author was likely influenced by the painting, which really made the connection between the arts, literature and society hit home for me. Everything is interconnected, and to this day, this is still a pattern, if not more because of the internet and our ability to easily mass communicate. He also allowed me to make a pair of Viking boots instead of writing a paper because he recognized that I would learn well that way, and it is because of that class that I am able to make my own moccasins. It’s also responsible for my knowledge of the trials and tribulations of Viking footwear during battle 🙂

All in all, I was champing at the bit to pursue the arts as a career, and these teachers assisted in making me feel confident that the arts are not only important, but crucial. Art is a form of communication, and I believe that it’s as necessary a school subject as learning to write. I am very thankful.

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

A Midsummer Night's Dream

I am a Producer/Actor for an all-female Shakespearean theatre company called The Tempest Ladies, and part of our mission is traveling overseas (primarily Istanbul, as of now) to schools in order to make Shakespeare more accessible in a fun and creative way. It gives children the opportunity to learn about Shakespeare and his plays through movement, character/relationship building and performance as opposed to sitting in a classroom only analyzing the text. We are based out of and perform in New York City, and we are currently talking about bringing our productions and workshops to underprivileged schools in the area as well as other cities abroad.

April 22-26, 2015

American Theatre of Actors, Chernuchin Theatre (View)
314 W. 54th Street
New York, NY 10035

http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/1382019