Let People Know, Arts Education Matters

Kennedy Center seen from the Potomac River.
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I wrote an email to my state’s arts council and the education director who read it got so excited, he posted it in the newsletter.  The lesson for me is this: When we think our voice is not heard, our letters go unread or our children’s accomplishments go unnoticed, we may be wrong.  Rather than wait for the acknowledgement fairy to visit, we can all write an email to encourage an arts group, thank a teacher or influence a legislator. Trust me, what we think matters.  Here’s a reprint of the August 2011 Oklahoma Arts Council Newsletter article in its entirety:

Quality Arts Education for All Students – Why It’s Important

August 1, 2011

by Michael Eddens

Prompted by ongoing national and statewide conversations on the economy, budget cuts, and government programs, along with an emphasis on student test scores and decreased attention given arts education, I’ve been thinking about the impact (and potential impact) of arts education on Oklahoma students.

As director of arts education programs for the Council, my work involves evaluating arts education programs funded by the Oklahoma Arts Council in schools around the state. From music and theatre camps to visual art programs and innovative arts integration projects, I’ve been impressed by arts education’s power to unlock learning and greatness in young people.

Recently I was greeted by a wonderful email that speaks directly to what’s been on my mind:

Dear Michael,

My daughter, Emily is the 2011 recipient of the 2011 VSA (Very Special Arts) Playwright Discovery Award, a prestigious honor culminating in a professional production of her original work at the John F. Kennedy Center in Washington DC.

Emily, now a 2011 graduate, was encouraged by her drama teacher to enter the competition for plays featuring a character with a disability. Though Emily does not have a disability, she has friends who do. One friend in particular inspired Emily to write the award-winning play, “Handspeak” about a deaf girl and her developing friendship with her interpreter’s non-hearing-impaired son. The VSA representative who called Emily about her award told her it was very easy to select her play as it stood out for its excellence

Emily also won first prize last year in the local City-County Library System Young Author’s Competition with a different play about how mental health issues affect families in her updated and exploratory modern take on the Lizzie Borden tale. One of the contest judges who is also a university professor and director noted that it was the best student play he had come across in his five years directing the library plays. This is a prestigious honor for a local kid and as a proud mama I wanted to tell you!

All of my children love and participate in the arts. It’s important to their success as students. Because even with the positive things they do academically there is no way I could get them out of bed in the morning without a vibrant arts program in their school.

Sally A

Thank you so much Sally, for that story. Sally’s letter provides an example of why it’s important for us to ensure quality arts education for all Oklahoma students.

While some youth have the means by which to explore, experience, play, practice, and learn to develop their creative talents, many students are not as fortunate. And while most children may not endeavor to become an artist, Sally’s letter demonstrates the importance of students being allowed the opportunity to participate and grow in the arts should they choose. And though students may become accountants, doctors, home builders, or business managers, the skills and knowledge acquired from arts education will surely transfer to their adult lives.

Sally’s letter is also an example of how relevant arts education remains for today’s youth. This is not only an example of how youth can create great art, but also an example of the deep level of social conscience and relevance the arts can inspire. How could anyone argue against the value of such work? Any good parent would be proud to know their child, student, friend, or neighbor had communicated something artistically that could make a real difference in our world.

Overall I am most impressed with Emily’s accomplishments. I love the idea that it actually CAN be our children, Oklahoma children, who achieve things like this if we simply give them the opportunity to do so. Perhaps by preparing our children now, they’ll be equipped to do a better job of dealing with the issues with which we struggle.

Michael Eddens (Director of Arts Education Programs) joined the Council in 2008 after a ten-year career teaching visual art in the Oklahoma City Public School district. Eddens provides oversight for the Council’s school and community-based arts education grants and programs and the Teaching Artist Roster. He also provides consultation on the development of arts education programs and assistance with professional development and arts education advocacy. Michael can be reached at (405) 521-2023 or michael.eddens@arts.ok.gov.”

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