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.

Arts Education Transforms Societies

Robert L. Lynch Headshot

Testimonial #42: David Morehead, Executive Director, Calling From The Dream

“I did not have a teacher that influenced me to actually pursue the arts. My decision to do so was pretty much pre-determined genetically at an early age. Music, acting, and the arts were a major part of my life growing up. Unfortunately though, the school system I attended, though not devoid of support for the arts, the focus and dollars were geared toward athletic programs and most specifically football.”

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?

My life was indelibly touched by an art teacher as a sophomore in high school. His name is Robert K. Haselier and it is a rather long and amusing story of where we started almost 45 years ago to where we are today as friends. I believe we both started at the high school I attended the same time; he, as a teacher and I as a student. If he did not leave the year I did after graduating, then he left the following year. My first encounter with him was when I entered his classroom for a drawing class. We had an assignment that required the use of scissors of which I did not have. I approached his desk and asked the question,” Where are the scissors at ?” ….This opened a lecture of how one does not use “at” at the end a sentence or end it with any preposition, blah,blah,blah….. Me being a 15 year old kid with attitude, I suppose it is easy to imagine my restrained thought of commenting “Kiss my …” followed with several choice expletives ending with my desire for him to return his to New Jersey. Fortunately, I did not. I had him for several classes the next 3 years all focusing on the arts, be it fine arts, foreign languages, humanities, etc. Eventually, we grew a tolerance [for each other] which developed into an acceptance, and avoided any confrontational situations. Towards the end of my senior year, he overheard a conversation I was having with a classmate about a stage production of “Tommy” that I had seen the night before. Long story short, he told me that he could allow extra credit points with a ticket stub and a written review if I wanted to submit. I found out that would have also been permitted for any class that I had taken from him e.g. a trip to an art museum for an art class, a concert for music appreciation, etc. With my backyard and stomping grounds being Sarasota , St. Petersburg, Tampa to Orlando and Daytona Beach and my love for the performing arts, had I known….I would have skipped classes a lot more than I did and actually came out ahead rather than being penalized. After I graduated from high school, we crossed paths a couple years later when he and his band mates came into a night club I was working, which featured live rock bands. We reconnected and saw each other frequently the next few years until I finally moved to the west coast. We did not see each other for a number of years. We did however touch base every few years, and then with the advent of Facebook and other social media avenues, are up to par again. Though we may not communicate daily, I do feel confident that he also feels that mutually reaching out to each other would bring a welcoming reception.
How are the arts re-igniting your community and sparking innovation and creativity in your local schools?

I am sure this is not quite the response you were anticipating as I did not have a teacher that influenced me to actually pursue the arts. My decision to do so was pretty much pre-determined genetically at an early age. Music, acting, and the arts were a major part of my life growing up. Unfortunately though, the school system I attended, though not devoid of support for the arts, the focus and dollars were geared toward athletic programs and most specifically football. One does not miss what is not available and besides this was something to have fun with, but not to be a chosen profession desired by my parents for me. When I was 16, I attended a Moody Blues concert with a friend and made the prophetic announcement that this was what I wanted to do with my life. Four years later, I was in a nightclub conversing with a keyboardist while he was on break and discovered that he, too, had a similar epiphany. Before he went back on stage, we had a laugh and decided we knew what we wanted; now, we had to just figure out how to make money doing so. Here I am today still trying to find the answer. If and when I do, my legacy will be to create a scholarship for students pursuing a career in performing arts. If it’s really successful, I will build a K-12 performing arts academy inclusive of a medium size theatre for the students’ performances. Hopefully, when she does appear at the end of my life, the fat lady who sings, will be a graduate of the academy and a recipient of a scholarship!