Every year the Albion Area Arts Council awards a Fine Arts scholarship to a graduating senior from one of the communities we serve. Though Lori and I don’t choose the winner – a special scholarship committee does that – we really enjoy reading the applications, especially the students’ answers to why the arts are important in their lives.
The students applying for this scholarship have all been involved with the arts in school, and many have been involved at the community level as well. The arts are not just something they do for one class period a day – their answers reveal that the arts are an important part of their overall lives. One student pointed out that the arts are a big part of everyone’s life, saying that the arts are “everywhere around us” — so much so that we often “don’t even notice.”
He’s right – the arts are part and parcel to life. The arts, after all, convey our feelings and thus have some place in every life.
That the arts are intimately tied to our emotions was made clear by several applicants. One wrote that the arts “are a good outlet for people to express themselves” and help a person ‘open up and be themselves in the world.’ Another student remarked that art has allowed her to ‘escape the struggles in her life’ and helped her ‘figure out who she is and who she wants to be.’ Another student said that for him art “serves as a kind of therapy,” allowing him to express his emotions. Yet another said that “when I am on stage performing, I feel as if I’m…invincible.”
A number of students discussed the “skills and life lessons” they’ve learned from participating in the arts. One mentioned how speech has given her the confidence to speak in front of people and that music has taught her much about leadership and working together as a team. Another girl noted that while she has “never been the star athlete,” the arts have given her other activities to excel in and helped her to “become well rounded” in her character.
A student from St. Edward summed up the importance of the arts by writing, “To be successful in today’s world, it is vitally important to possess the ability to think, possess people skills, solve problems, demonstrate creativity and work as a member of a team.” She went on to say that the arts have helped her in all these areas and that the skills she’s gained from participating in the arts “will be the ones that will help guide me throughout the rest of my life.”
The arts are, as the student I mentioned above understands, so interwoven in our lives that it’s easy not to notice them. But as these applications make clear, the arts are an important part of many young people’s lives. The arts help them express their feelings, learn more about themselves, and provide them with valuable life skills. Being able to award one of these young people a scholarship in the arts is a wonderful privilege, but at the same time it’s a shame they can’t all win. Art is important to every one of them, and they all deserve to be supported and encouraged as they continue to learn and grow.
They say if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Case in point is the national do-not-call list that prevents telemarketers from calling people who don’t wish to be bothered. It sounded like a great idea, and at first the calls did stop. But over time the telemarketers have found ways around the restrictions. Currently they call saying they aren’t selling anything, just taking a survey. But it’s always more than that; they’re just using a new approach to entice a person into making a “donation” in place of a sale.
So I’ve grown suspicious of surveys whether they come by phone, mail or over the Internet. As a result, when asked to complete a survey last month about the Albion Area Arts Council, I wasn’t very enthusiastic. But, a few days before the deadline Lori and I filled it out. It asked a lot of questions about where our money comes from and where it goes, and only later did I figure out why we were being asked: across the country the arts are once again under attack by politicians of a certain stripe, and a national effort is being mounted to defend the importance of the arts.
For example, Kansas, which normally occupies its time dithering over whether or not to teach evolution, recently ended all state support for the arts. Never mind the figures indicating that every government dollar spent supporting the arts generates $7.78 in increased tax revenue – today a penny saved is better than a dollar earned.
Despite largely representing only the investor class, it seems fewer and fewer politicians today can grasp the concept of an investment. In April, for instance, Congress cut all funding for America’s Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D) districts – Boone County has benefited from the work of PrairieLand RC&D for the past ten years or so, but helping rural areas now means nothing in Washington. Touted by Tea Partiers as essential to balancing the federal budget, Congress saved $50.7 million (a miniscule percentage of the $3.83 trillion federal budget) by sacrificing the estimated $500 million those RC&D dollars would have generated through development projects.
Similar, though less successful, efforts were aimed at eliminating federal funding for the arts.
The value of the arts was easy to see last week when nearly 70 young people from as far away as Lincoln and even California auditioned for the Arts Council’s annual Missoula Children’s Theatre production. Those chosen worked remarkably hard all week learning the show, not because they had to but because they wanted to. I watched little kids skip up to the school doors with big smiles on their faces – they were excited for the chance to sing and act their hearts out. I saw friendships forged and maybe even lives changed as the seeds of self expression were planted in dozens of young hearts.
And it wasn’t just the kids participating whose lives were touched; one little boy who wore boots with cherries on them came every day with his mom to watch his sister rehearse. Thursday, the first day the full set was up, he stopped and stared at it in delight. After a moment he said to his mother, “That’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen!”
The positive impacts of programs that connect kids with the arts are so great they can sometimes seem too good to be true. But their promise, unlike that of the do-not-call list, is real. And since kids can’t vote, it’s up to us adults to make sure that funding for the arts doesn’t go the way of funding for our RC&Ds…