May 15, 2009

Sing & Dance & Run & Jump

Thanks to Twitter, I came across a wonderful op-ed piece in the Amherst Bulletin about the importance of arts funding. There's certainly been no shortage of wonderful news relating to the arts this week: the appointment of Rocco Landesman to head up the National Endowment for the Arts, the White House arts evening, and even, if you can believe, the Seattle Opera advertising their position for a young person to see and report on the Wagner Ring cycle they'll be producing in August.

But then there's the bad news: in Canada, several important arts institutions are facing funding shortfalls. With the wonderful chaos of June approaching (Luminato, NXNE, the Toronto Jazz Festival, Pride), the issue of cultural relevance is that much more pungent. There's also the depressing fact that Canada's art galleries and museums are falling apart , meaning that many younger people -as well as visitors from overseas or across the border -may never be able to see the incredible cultural legacy of this country.

Would any of this happen if there was a real balance of arts and academia in childhood? I was lucky to have been educated in the arts outside of school; going to operas, symphonies, museums and galleries was plus normale for me growing up. But not every kid was blessed with an arts-loving mother. And so, it falls to schools to often provide what kids can't or don't get at home. That usually includes everything from proper nutrition to social interaction to basic manners.

What irks me is that whenever schools are facing funding shortfalls, the first thing to go is always, inevitably, arts programs. Yup! They're frilly! Arrgh. I used to make a face and wonder why physical education wasn't cut instead (spoken by a true non-athlete), but I realized, in starting to appreciate the cultural place sport has in society, and the benefits of movement, that phys-ed has every right to be taken as seriously as arts-ed. And vice-versa.

To quote Mindy Domb, in the Amherst Bulletin:
Art and music teach our children how to think critically, take risks, make and correct mistakes, "fail," and recoup. They give our children a frame of reference for understanding not only our world, but also offer an appreciation and understanding of the different perspectives, approaches and ways of communicating each of us brings to the human endeavor... Cutting physical education while the public health community urges additional opportunities for physical activity for children seems regressive and backwards. Physical education might look like an easy mark, a target that can be tapped for funding without ill effects. This, however, dismisses the needs of our kids to be active and to learn from play. It also ignores the call of the public health community to provide more physical education for young children, not less.
These times we're in seem like the perfect opportunity to start making investments, not pulling away in fear. The investment in a lifetime of good health and positive relationships seems like a good one.

Related: If you haven't read Christopher Knight's take on Landesman's appointment to the National Endowment for the arts, you really should. It's excellent.

1 comment:

Sterling Lynch said...

Useful post. FYI: Twitter got me here.

I believe the arts are important. I also believe arts education is important. It does not follow from those two beliefs that arts education necessarily should happen in schools, as your own experience demonstrates.

My own view is that arts practitioners should fill the void schools may not have the funds to fill, either by partnering with schools or by setting-up revenue generating independent programs. Strictly-speaking, these funding shortfalls should be seen as an opportunity to nurture directly tomorrow's arts community today.

The arts are important. Very important. So important, that perhaps its time arts practitioners took on the responsibility of nurturing the arts in the young ourselves instead of hoping that others will do it for us.