Thursday, April 28, 2011

My Favorites from "Top 10 Reasons to Support the Arts"

I found this list today on Twitter.  There are lots of reasons the arts are important, but it seems like the arts folks are being asked, endlessly, to justify the existence of such pursuits. I wonder if there will ever be a day when we won't need to quantify and justify something as integral to our humanity and human experience as artistic inquiry and expression.  In the meantime, here are some of my favorites from this post from the National Performing Arts Convention, For Those Who Like Lists: Top 10 Reasons to Support the Arts, with some comments from me in italics

10. True prosperity…The arts are fundamental to our humanity.  They ennoble and inspire us—fostering creativity, goodness, and beauty.  They help us express our values, build bridges between cultures, and bring us together regardless of ethnicity, religion, or age.  When times are tough, the arts are salve for the ache.

I remember when the Twin Towers were destroyed, along with the lives of thousands of people.  My Celtic music band was scheduled to play an outdoor community concert a few days later.  There was a lot of talk back and forth about whether we should perform as planned or not.  The local arts council in this community decided we should go ahead with our plans.  In our hotel room the tv was filled with horrific images and never-ending talk about what had happened and why.  In the lovely South Carolina downtown city park space we saw in front of us people of all ages, multi-generational family groups, the largest crowd we'd ever had at an event like this.  We had never quite experienced the kind of focus and energy we received that night.  There was a palpable connectedness between everyone present.  We didn't talk much about recent events and we didn't change our show in any major way.  We just showed up, showed our humanity, and filled a need in that moment.  It's an experience I will never forget.

7. 21st Century workforce . . . reports by The Conference Board show creativity is among the top applied skills sought by employers.  72 percent of business leaders say creativity is of high importance when hiring.  The biggest creativity indicator?  A college arts degree.  Their report concludes, “…the arts—music, creative writing, drawing, dance—provide skills sought by employers of the third millennium.”
I hear a lot about the need for schools to produce (?) 'creative, out-of-the-box' thinkers in the name of business.  Yes, and for many other things as well.  We need good problem solvers in all areas of life.  I'm not sure, however, if a college arts degree is all you need to succeed in life or that (as I read it) the arts are the only way to learn to be creative. 
The arts are a creative pursuit, to be sure, but there are many other ways of thinking creatively.  It is possible to transfer a creative, problem solving mindset between subject areas, but an arts degree is not the only way.  Myself, I got a BA from The Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA in the social sciences.  TESC is an interdisciplinary state university where the focus is on thematically and question based inquiry; essentially, learning how to make connections between ideas and information, and to ask questions, find the answers, and then ask more questions, no matter what subject you're interested in. 
6. Improved academic performance…longitudinal data of 25,000 students demonstrate that students with an education rich in the arts have higher GPAs and standardized test scores, lower drop-out rates, and even better attitudes about community service.  These benefits are reaped by students regardless of socio-economic status.  Children motivated by the arts develop attention skills and strategies for memory retrieval that also apply to other academic subject areas such as math and science.

Despite my assertions in reply to #7, I still think the arts are one of the best ways to engage and motivate children in learning.  I find the last line of this section to bear out in my own work teaching math and percussive dance in an integrated, problem solving environment:

Children motivated by the arts develop attention skills and strategies for memory retrieval that also apply to other academic subject areas such as math and science.

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