Why Arts Education Matters

judithlight_jwstoller_march2015[2]

March 12, 2015
By Judith Light

My mother taught me when I was three years old to memorize and recite “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Everybody laughs, but it’s absolutely the truth. My mother was my first teacher of the arts, and I performed “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” for my father, so he was my first audience. Even at that young age, I had a child’s intuition, which I would now say was a simple understanding of how art and culture affect us as human beings and how we can connect to each other through the arts. That understanding is something that defines my life to this day.

When I was growing up, my parents supported my interest in taking acting classes and doing community theater. My father drove me to the rehearsals every day after school, whenever I was doing community theatre productions, and I went to a performing arts camp in New Hope, Pennsylvania. I grew up in Trenton, New Jersey, and my parents even allowed me to go on the train to New York City when I was a young teen to study theater.

My parents’ faith in me at that young an age—and the kind of professional training I was getting from my theater teachers—gave me a sense of purpose, a sense of self-confidence, a sense of discipline. I learned what artistic achievement actually was, what hard work the business was. I didn’t have this rosy picture of what our business was. I was really learning what it would require for me to become a professional.

I was also learning about life. Working with great teachers like Ruth Strahan and Herb Hamsher, who’s also been my manager for 35 years, I learned about having faith in myself and about developing humility. Most people know that this business is all about not getting everything you want when you want it. Since success comes with such incredible gifts, many people don’t realize that, for an actor, most of our lives are actually filled with recognizing that we can’t control things. So I’ve learned, and am still learning as this is an active process, to simply be grateful for what I’ve been given. Those are very, very precious life skills that were all part of my arts education.

I became an actor, but arts education isn’t just about preparing our young people for a career in the arts. I’m on the board of several organizations that work with young people in the New York City area through theater education, including MCC Theater and LeAp OnStage. I recently went to a LeAp OnStage class, and I talked to some of the kids participating. Some of them want to work in theater, and some of them don’t. The program teaches them theater skills, but they also learn about the world around them. They learn about discipline and hard work and what’s required and what they have to do to bring themselves to the work. They learn how they can be of service in the world through the arts. They learn how to elevate the people around them. They learn how to work with a team. By studying the arts, these students are exposed to worlds and lives that they might not have any other way of knowing about or any other way to connect with in their lives the way they are right now. Arts education expands their horizons.

These young people are our legacy. We are passing the torch to them. And I think that’s one of the most important reasons why we need to foster the arts. My late friend Wendy Wasserstein, the wonderful Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, created a program called Open Doors, run by Theatre Development Fund, that brings young people to the theater. When you talk to them after they’ve seen a performance, you hear how their lives are changed exponentially. They feel differently about themselves and the world around them. I think when we get into the arts as young people, it tends to be pretty much about us and our egos. But as we really learn about the arts we discover that it is all about being of service and all about supporting others in seeing things they would not otherwise see—about themselves as well as other people.

Because of my own experience in arts education, and all of the visible ways I see it impact young people today, I was thrilled to learn that there’s a new honor from the Tony Awards®—the Excellence in Theatre Education Award—which is supported by a partnership between the Tonys and Carnegie Mellon University. I think this award underscores that the Tonys are not actually a competition; they are a recognition of achievement. Everyone who ever gets an award always wants to thank the many, many people who participated in their achievement, and really where it all always begins is with our teachers. So this award makes the Tonys a recognition of that beginning as well as the culmination of the achievement.

What’s even better is that this particular Tony award is open to nominations from the public. I know my own story is just one of many stories of the ways that people have been changed by arts education delivered by great teachers. I hope you’ll take a moment to nominate a great theater education teacher in your life for this award. I can’t wait to lead the standing ovation for our very first honoree this spring.

For three consecutive years, Judith Light was nominated for Broadway’s Tony Award as Best Featured Actress in a play. She won back-to-back Tonys for Jon Robin Baitz’s “Other Desert Cities”(2012) and Richard Greenberg’s “The Assembled Parties” (2013). She also won back-to-back Drama Desk Awards for those performances. In 1999 she starred in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Wit” in New York and also at the Kennedy Center winning the Helen Hayes award. Her Broadway debut was in “A Doll’s House” with Liv Ullman, followed by a season at the Eugene O’Neill Playwrights Conference. Judith received her BFA from Carnegie Mellon University and has worked in repertory theatres in the US, Canada and performed in Europe. In 2014, she was named the National Ambassador for the 19th KIDS NIGHT ON BROADWAY® by The Broadway League.
– See more at: http://arts.gov/art-works/2015/why-arts-education-matters#comment-1358936

March is Save Our Schools Month: Matt Damon Speaks

Matt Damon

 

What is the value of performing arts in society?

  “It’s well and good that arts — and performing arts especially — are part of our society, but they’re not the vital part of our society.” ~Board President Daniel Gomes 
Do you think performing arts are vital to society?
This is an excerpt of On Assignment, education writer Theresa Harrington’s blog on Contra Costa County schools. Read more and post comments at IBABuzz.com/onassignment. Follow her at Twitter.com/tunedtotheresa or Facebook.com/TheresaHarringtonBANG.

Jan. 16:

Just a little over a week after newly-sworn in Contra Costa County Superintendent Karen Sakata proudly performed with a Taiko drum group at her inauguration ceremony, the president of the county board of education has questioned the value of performing arts in society.

Board President Daniel Gomes angered a crowd of arts advocates at a board meeting earlier this week by suggesting that pursuing the idea of a countywide performing arts charter school might be “wasting money and wasting time — and we might be wasting lives by supporting this.”

This prompted Rob Seitelman, a local teacher and professional actor, to yell back: “That’s how I want to waste my life — by supporting the arts!”

In a long and rambling monologue, Gomes said it would be better to pursue a countywide charter focused on robotics or environmental science than performing arts.

“These are programs that are vital to our survival as a society,” he said. “It’s well and good that arts — and performing arts especially — are part of our society, but they’re not the vital part of our society.”

When the crowd erupted with gasps of disbelief, Gomes said those who disagreed with him could vote against him in the next election.

“But until then,” he said, “you should listen to what I have to say because I listened to what you have to say.”

Many people left after the board unanimously denied the proposed Contra Costa School of Performing Arts, based on staff findings that the petition did not meet state requirements for approval.

But Gomes’ comments set off a larger debate, causing some people to question his characterization of the arts as less important than science. In education, arts have suffered severe cuts and have been considered “extras” by some, in part because of the No Child Left Behind emphasis on math and English language arts, coupled with years of budget cuts.

As the economy has recovered and studies have shown the value of the arts in education, there has been a renaissance of arts in many schools. Even the Contra Costa County Office of Education emphasizes the value of arts alongside Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics — known as STEM — by hosting a STEAM Colloquium that integrates the arts into STEM.

And earlier this year, representatives from the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence visited Meadow Homes Elementary in Concord to praise its integration of the arts into its curriculum. John Abodeely, deputy director of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, said the arts are a vital part of a well-rounded education and are especially powerful in efforts to engage underperforming students.

“The arts are not something you provide to students when you’ve fixed all the other problems,” he said. “Just like music is not something that’s been a part of humanities after we’ve figured out all of our other problems. It’s been a part of our soul and heart forever. So, the arts are a critical element in reform strategies.”

Outside the county board meeting, performing arts teacher Jason Miller said he disagreed with Gomes.

“Arts education is essential to our society,” he said. “The sentiment expressed tonight (by Gomes) was alarming — the idea that arts education isn’t valuable or that arts students are wasting their lives.”

After my story about the meeting was published, retired arts teacher Suzanne Cerny called to express her dismay about Gomes’ comments.

“How did this guy get to be president (of the board)?” she asked. “Studies show how arts are important. This reminds me of people in power who demean the people whom they are supposed to be helping.”

I also spoke to Richard Asadoorian, a former Contra Costa County trustee who lost his seat in the November election, who said he didn’t believe the arts should be considered as secondary behind other subjects.

“So often, the arts have been cut in schools,” he said. “They’re usually the first to go, along with librarians and counselors.”

Do you think performing arts are vital to society?

7 Ways Michelle Obama Positively Influenced Education in 2014

Michelle Obama Campaigns For Charlie Crist In Miami

“Arts education isn’t something we add on after we’ve achieved other priorities, like raising test scores and getting kids into college,” said the First Lady. “It’s actually critical for achieving those priorities in the first place.”

 

Matthew Lynch, Ed.D. Headshot

Testimonial #43: Julie Angelos, Staff Writer at Jbulie’s blog/an Online Journal

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

When I was just a kid, like second grade, my teacher assigned me the role of Sue the Eskimo. I had to rub noses with the male lead. I tell you, to this day, I’m shy. Even though every semblance you’d see of me points otherwise, I have to admit I was so honored to have been chosen for one of the two leads.  I was a handed a script with lines. I didn’t really know better but I figured it would be a good idea to memorize them. Then, came the day we had to say our lines in front of the class. I was shocked and let down that nobody else did the same; that is, learn their lines by heart.  They read their lines! I was bored to tears.  My teacher just about jumped out of her chair with happiness that someone cared enough to make her efforts live. I hadn’t thought twice about  it. It was one of those moments that you just live.

My mom was and is an art teacher. Remember the moment in class when the teacher asks everyone to hold up their drawings for the rest of the class to see? The first or second time is no big deal, but as I grew, I sometimes, and some of the other kids shrugged away from sharing their innermost.  The problem was that we made mistakes and didn’t always know how to correct them. Do you know what I’m talking about? That minute, where you just want to take your paper and throw it in the trash? Well, my mom had this way of telling me:   “Julie, you can always fix it.”  I didn’t quite get what she meant but she helped me to see the same painting in a new light, maybe by making other lines thicker or coming up with a new drawing that integrates the old one.

They say that everyone is creative. I agree. I think all of us have that light in us that wants to shine but it can sometimes be dimmed by circumstance; however, to answer your question above, Fran, how the arts are re-igniting my community, the answer is that I’ve taken my mom’s advice and applied it to my paintings — the never-give-up, it-can-be-fixed attitude. Lately, I painted three murals for our baseball team, on my own, I’d like to say, in the morning, early hours, on a Saturday, armed with a bike, paintbrush and fun music on my earphones. I just wrote the name of my city in Coca Cola styled logo and the word, baseball. Now we have over 60 players. We started with four. That’s my story. Thank you for putting the question out there. Love it.

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?

Indelibly touched by a teacher, breaking the mold.  My gut response is what I wrote above, the lesson about never giving up. But actually, if you have a second, I’d love to tell you about Mr. C. It’s really quick. Basically, I was just a simple student going to school in my sophomore year of high school, when Dr. C. called me into his office to ask me where I had planned on going to university.  It sounds so cliché or ridiculous, but I had never actually had to answer that question to anyone before.  He gave the packet of university applications with a map that later completely changed my course of life.

Thanks again, Fran! That was fun.

Creator Julie Angelos is proof positive a great idea can come to fruition if you believe in it. Julie developed jbule’s blog with $99 of her own money on a whim.

Friends and family were quick to come aboard. Today jbulie’s blog can boast a 40k visitor base growing steadily to 100,000 endorsed by scores of red carpet readers just like you.

Eager to pay it forward, Julie contributes to meaningful causes as well as happily helping friends and family. 

Ask me anything.