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Arts Advocates, Unite!

16 Sep

(PHOTO: Alan King) The D.C. Creative Writing Workshop’s writing club members who placed at the 2013 Parkmont Poetry Competition.

In a previous post, I talked about why poetry matters. Now, with the shift towards STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) curriculum, advancing the arts is more important than ever.

I’m still hellbent on convincing my opponents that arts education is as important as mathematical skills. In fact, while “you can replace some math skills with a calculator,” according to Hal Sparks, “there’s no calculator for human interaction.”

That human connection — which I enjoy as a creative writing instructor and nationally published poet — is, as Hendrik Willem van Loon once put it, a true barometer of what’s going on in our world.

(PHOTO: Alan King) Mark Williams, chair of the Literary Media and Communications department at Duke Ellington School of the Arts, cracks up after hearing Khat’s joke: “Why do basketball players wear bibs?” Answer: “Because they dribble a lot.”

I’m glad that two columnists, The Desert Sun’s Floyd Rhoades and Florida Today’s Suzy Fleming Leonard, are using that barometer to measure how arts impact today’s education. The emphasis placed on STEM — minus the “A” — worries Rhoades.

”Certainly a well-rounded education is critical, but when we put all the emphasis on right-brained education, what happens to the left-brained students?” Rhoades wondered. “What about an A for the Arts? We should be talking about STEAM” — (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) — “not just STEM….It’s also about quality of life.”

As a poetry teacher, I can attest to that. The arts fulfill my life and those of my students. During my craft lessons I teach throughout the D.C./Baltimore region, I make my classes aware of sensory details (what brings the reader into the speaker’s world) and psychological details (what brings the reader inside the speaker’s mind or what shows the speaker’s reactions to the sensory details).

What I enjoy most about teaching is how my students light up when they realize that every time they write poems, they’re casting spells. The goal is to keep the reader spellbound until the end. They also learn to enhance an already rich experience with other literary devices such as rhythm and alliteration, both of which crank up a line’s musicality so it hits the reader like a bass thump to the chest.

For the students I taught at both Duke Ellington School of the Arts and the D.C. Creative Writing Workshop, those craft elements paid off when their work won recognition in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards and the Parkmont Poetry Festival in addition to D.C.’s citywide competitions.

(PHOTO: Alan King) Kayla swagging at the after school writing club.

The arts also provides abundant possibilities, according to columnist Suzy Fleming Leonard, who interviewed about 900 folks on Facebook. The outcome affirmed her hypothesis that arts appreciation does more than “produce…just talented artists.”

Leonard’s notion alludes to the creative economy, what Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class, describes as “creativity…turned into big commercial innovations lead[ing] to new businesses, new jobs, higher wages and economic growth.”

In a September column for The Atlantic, Florida noted a recent study by two analysts at the London School of Economics that looked at the United Kingdom’s “creative industries” — among which are advertising, architecture, publishing and design.

“But, as the researchers pointed out, creativity extends beyond these specific firms and industries,” wrote Florida. “Roughly 2 million people are employed in creative occupations across the U.K. Economy, more than 40 percent of which are in other industries.”

Back in the U.S., Mijee Bain and Debbie Vordemark Wells are part of that economy. They told Florida Today’s Suzy Fleming Leonard how their childhood appreciation of the arts equipped them for unlikely careers.

“Because of my education in the arts — both at school and in Brevard County community theaters — I learned a good amount of the skills I needed to become an international business consultant,” Bain said. “I would never have been able to travel and consult with major companies on six continents without my background in the arts.”

It also informs Debbie Vordemark Wells’s skills as an engineer. “I think what makes the arts so attractive to complete education is the use of the other senses,” Wells said. “I have been lucky to have started serious musical training at 9 and played alone or in groups for many years. . . . As a result, I’m a very creative engineer. Sound, smell, sight and feel play a huge role in evaluating technology.”

As for me, I’m in the business of advancing art. I did it for four years as senior program director for the D.C. Creative Writing Workshop. My communications strategies included developing outreach materials — often quoting Americans for the Arts in my grant applications to corporate and private funders, informing them that “The arts…are essential to a thriving community, creating a sense of place and fueling social and economic growth.”

Duke Ellington’s Literary Media students rehearsing their talk for TEDxDESA, the first-ever high school TED talk.

I also took my crusade to the airwaves, promoting arts education through an on-air interview and radio spots, all of which resulted from my partnership with National Public Radio. Additionally, I served as an advisory panelist for the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, improving the commission’s application/review process.

And despite these accomplishments, I know my work — like other arts advancers — is a drip, compared to the downpour of programs and services that arts advocacy coalitions offer their member organizations and artists.

That’s why — more than ever — we need to make a stronger case for arts education, which requires collaborating with other arts defenders, echoing a Michael Jordan quote: “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.”

It’s time for us to support groups championing the arts, doing our part to help score opportunities for more Americans to take part in and appreciate all forms of the arts.

 
11 Comments

Posted by on September 16, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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11 responses to “Arts Advocates, Unite!

  1. lisaakramer

    September 16, 2013 at 5:45 pm

    Go team arts advocates! It always amazes me that, when you look at the skills employers want for jobs, they are skills taught through the arts. STEM courses teach valuable lessons, but the arts create valuable humans. This is a wonderful post that I intend to share. Thank you for this.

     
    • Alan King

      September 16, 2013 at 5:52 pm

      Thank you, Lisa! I once heard from a former NSA worker that they recruit agents with a music background. He said the skills of knowing note counts translates to an ability to make calculating decisions. I thought he was joing, but he was dead serious.

       
  2. Aquarius Press

    September 17, 2013 at 8:07 am

    Thanks, Alan, for giving us the best argument yet for why an arts curriculum is just as important as STEM!

     
    • Alan King

      September 17, 2013 at 9:12 am

      Thanks, Heather, for the advocacy work you do!

       
  3. painspeaks

    September 18, 2013 at 8:46 pm

     
  4. Jason T. Lewis

    September 19, 2013 at 4:01 pm

    Reblogged this on Jason T. Lewis for ICCSD.

     
    • Alan King

      September 19, 2013 at 4:22 pm

      Jason and Liz,

      I’m so honored that you both reblogged this, helping to carry this message further than I could. It’s much appreciated.

      Take care,
      Alan

       
  5. C. Bowen

    September 30, 2013 at 9:23 pm

    This was a fantastic introduction to you, Alan. I’m so honored to be reading with you in Baltimore later this month…

     
    • Alan King

      September 30, 2013 at 11:23 pm

      Hey C. Bowen,

      Thanks! I can’t wait to meet you at our reading in Baltimore. Thank you for your light.

       
  6. joannevalentinesimson

    October 2, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    Alan, I agree with much of what you say, and I like the idea of a STEAM education! The problem I see, as a scientist who has always loved the arts and who is now reinventing herself as a writer, is that most students prefer arts education, because it’s more interesting and exciting. The whole passion thing. Scientists often “do” arts, but artists seldom “do” science, and science – like other skill-intensive disciplines, requires hours and hours of training and practice. A young man I once knew said he “couldn’t do” math, yet he wouldn’t even work on it or try to understand it, whereas he spent hours practicing basketball.
    I believe it’s important to focus on STEM (or STEAM) training because our country has fallen woefully behind much of the rest of the “developed” world in STEM disciplines, probably because grade-school and high-school teachers weren’t properly trained and don’t really understand the basics of science. I could tell you some horror stories of poor teachers during my and my children’s educational experiences. In the face of very poor pre-college education, a person needs to be extremely motivated to pursue a scientific field.
    When half of our country’s population doesn’t believe in evolution, and doesn’t understand the difference between evidence and proof, we somehow need to motivate a deeper understanding of the way things work, in addition to enjoying arts and entertainment. Yes, let’s admit that arts are important, but that understanding science is essential for making informed decisions in this very complicated world.

     
    • Alan King

      October 2, 2013 at 7:10 pm

      Joanne,

      Always glad to see your name in the comment and like of each post. What I enjoy about developing blog post, in addition to the writing, are the various insights that readers (and often bloggers such as yourself) add to the discussion. Thanks again.

       

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