My sister’s performance in her school’s production of “Beauty and the Beast” this past weekend got me thinking: how is it that the arts receive so little funding nationwide throughout middle schools and high schools? And even colleges? Oliver Ames High School, my alma mater, is lucky to have such a strong base in music and the arts – they consistently rank in the top tier of public schools nationwide, and have one of the best show choirs, pit bands, and music programs in not only the state, but I’d venture to say the nation. They have been blessed with an incredible director and have built a program over the years that is now housed in a beautiful auditorium (well, really, the entire music program has its own wing of the high school), which is nicer than any of the performing arts spaces on my college campus. That being said, not all schools are so lucky.
What I thought about as I sat there watching one of the most amazing performances I have seen – yes, at a high school musical production – was how so many kids nationwide are missing out on opportunities like this. Arts are so crucial to students getting a well-rounded and actually fulfilling education. As a dancer, I was taught self composure, stage presence, and teamwork, and grew comfortable in my own skin in a way that many of peers were never able to. I was taught to never walk into an auditorium while a performance was on stage, and to always clap for a number no matter who it was or how you thought they performed. In short, it made me who I was today. My sister, as a result of participating in show choir, musicals, and the a cappella group, is an outgoing girl who knows the value of working as a team to pull together an incredible show. She is confident, comfortable, and at ease with herself, and has a group of friends who share her interests.
Unlike competitive sports, performance based arts focus on pulling together as a community to accomplish a goal: pulling all the pieces together to put on a spectacular production in which everyone is important, everyone has a crucial role, and everyone must put in 100% energy all the time. Rather than being competitive, it takes the whole team to make it exactly what it is, and without everyone it falls apart. Furthermore, the community becomes involved: parents put the sets together, donors help fund the productions, volunteers help staff the event, and the youth and future leaders are thus supported by those around them in undeniable ways. They are taught through this very democratic process that doing something in performance arts, which has a reputation of being disrespected (think Sue Sylvester’s character on “Glee”), is supported and encouraged by their elders, which is extremely important. Kids need encouragement to pursue their own interests and talents, not just pressure to score the winning goal.
Funding for the arts in public schools is so crucial, everywhere throughout the country. I love athletics, and as a varsity college D1 athlete I know I have gained so much out of the experience, but I also know that I wouldn’t be here without my dance teachers and parents who said it was okay not to be as interested in “normal” athletics programs as I was in dance. Athletics often stress the importance of individual success while masking it as teamwork, putting pressure on athletes to be the best of the best, the MVP, and the captain who can do it all. In contrast, arts programs allow students to develop their own interests and talents while putting together performances as a true community. Where would the lead role be without the lighting designer, the ensemble, and the costume designers? These programs are so important to sustain, as is the sense of creativity that they nurture.
Martha Graham, an innovative and revolutionary dancer, once said: “The unique must be fulfilled.” Congratulations to my sister and everyone at OAHS for doing just that, and reminding us how important it is to encourage everyone else to do the same.