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Friday, September 21, 2012

The Sweet Spot: Glee and Arts Education

Posted By on Fri, Sep 21, 2012 at 1:17 PM

  • Creative Impact Poster
  • Creative Impact Poster

By the six grade, I couldn't have named the capital of Virginia, but I could have told you the plot of "Swan Lake." I could also hum the opening bars of Beethoven's "Ninth Symphony" and raise my fist (with emphatic modern dance flair) in solidarity against South African Apartheid. 

I was not a prodigy. No. I merely went to one of those weirdo hippie arts schools where we had totem pole-carving classes and progress reports instead of grades.

The school, an experiment by a group of idealistic and dedicated teachers, was free and open to everyone. Most students came from our proverbial societal gutters and yet all the graduates have thrived. There were no teen pregnancies, suicides, stints in rehab or in prison. (I can't say the same for many of the other kids I grew up with.) I credit a steady diet of banjo plucking. 

And so does writer and youth educator Carrie Leilam Love. "Arts education can literally save lives. I work with kids that are struggling with a lot in life whether it is poverty or violence or trauma," she says. "Having an outlet and a teacher to guide them to express themselves creatively as opposed to internalizing or responding to violence with violence is vital. It is, in fact, an intervention." 

Of course. Or so I think; however, many of those makers of policy and government budgets don't. There is a prevailing belief that a degree in engineering or business is more useful to those that are disadvantaged, that arts education is just a little pretentious -- 'cause heck, kids don't need Basquiat or Maria Callas or poetry. What they need are skills, damn it. 

In all fairness to that idea, I am the first to admit that poetry does not pay. Poetry itself will not revive the economy or save the planet but I know that it is a necessary force. But how to convince? What, really, does the study of art bring to the educational table? 

Musician Martin Luther McCoy says, "The arts allow us to express a lot of emotions. We want people to experience things that they will remember." 
He profoundly believes that the arts are important and credits them with having transformed his life.

"I want to excavate the silences and I wouldn't have had that inclination if the arts hadn't impacted me at a very early age. Take Basquiat. He came along in an era that didn't recognize any African-American contributions to the arts -- en masse. Then here comes this kid, a little black kid, who steps onto the scene. Very sharp. He put crowns on the heads of boxers and horn players that black Americans thought were important. As a writer now, if I can reach into those voids where the silences are, then I am doing my job. You dig?" 

I do. Engaging in the artistic process allows for the exploration of individuality not possible in other disciplines. Love says also that, "there are specific methods of inquiry that come through the arts that don't come through science or math. I do think we need more artists in the world but arts education is not about producing artists. It's also not about every young person becoming an artist. Instead, it is essential for every person to have the tools to express themselves creatively. That is what the arts offer." 

Cornell University's president, David J. Skorton, agrees. "Science and technology help us to answer questions of 'what' and 'how,' the arts and humanities give us ways to confront the intangible, to contemplate the 'why,' to imagine, to create. If ever there were a time to nurture those skills in our young people, it is now, when our nation's future may depend on our creativity..."

I am not dissing math. Some of my best friends are math heads. X(high strung nature) + Y(love of camp) = J(jazz hands)! But, as it turns out, according to, "involvement in the arts is associated with gains in math, reading, cognitive ability, critical thinking, and verbal skill."  Hella! 

In the coming election, a proposal for increasing the budget for arts education will be on the ballot. Go vote and honor the words of one Will Shuester to the evil cheerleader-coach-turned-congressional-candidate: "Every tiny grain of this glitter represents the kid whose dreams won't come true if you get elected and end school arts programs. John F. Kennedy once said that arts are the roots of our culture! The arts enrich lives, and help kids achieve in all walks of life. Sue Sylvester... You just got glitterbombed!"

For more information, go here.

The Sweet Spot is a blog column by Ginger Murray, who is also the editor of Whore! magazine. Check back next week for more.

For more events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook.
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Ginger Murray


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