#WeAllDeserveArts: Alorie Clark – Arts Learning Coordinator, DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities

January 22, 2021

I have been involved in the arts my entire life. My fondest memories as a kid who loved to create include performing as “Dorothy” in The Wiz, rehearsing for “Perma Do” in Snow White and the Seven Homies, and calling the show as the stage manager for my high school’s musical, The Music Man. As an adult, I often reflect on the many lessons I learned while participating in the arts. These experiences have been critical to my academic success, professional career, and ability to serve in society as a well-rounded citizen.

Early in my artistic journey, I was introduced to people who were ethnically, socially, and culturally different. Arts spaces typically welcome people of varying beliefs and lifestyles, and requires them to work together to complete a project. With the task in mind, participants quickly realize there isn’t enough time to consider individual characteristics and values. They may not understand their fellow creative’s personal choices, but they are all now affiliated by artistic priorities. Working together towards the goal helps to shift the focus from social and personal discussions to innovative conversations and solutions. Even if people joined the effort for various reasons, everyone involved is committed to collaborating for the sake of a quality result. Oftentimes, the different perspectives and backgrounds contribute to the creative process. Participants also continually learn more about each other, and recognize additional commonalities. Usually at the end of the extended time together, the mutual professional respect evolves to personal friendships. Artistic spaces challenge people to release their judgement and bias, which then allows for authentic bonds to form with people who they may have otherwise never met. 

I once worked for an opera company, though I knew nothing about opera. Being in that environment everyday, I learned so much about the art form, and even developed an appreciation for it. I established relationships with passionate singers and musicians from all walks of life. I even started learning Italian from an eldely language teacher who also shared all the amazing food and culture from her home country. One friendship in particular was formed with a well-known and accomplished conductor. Our shared preference of work ethic and communication progressed to an unexpected bond. He was a white man that was more than twice my age, but our shared love for Mexican food resulted in frequent meals together. I learned so much from someone that was completely different from when and how I grew up. My background in the arts continues to remind me to embrace things I know nothing about, open myself to new experiences, and seek connections in unique situations. 

So much of what is happening in the world is because people are afraid of what they can’t comprehend. If every child participated in the arts, they would all experience similar lessons of collaboration, openness, empathy, social tolerance, and fearlessness. They would understand that even if they don’t agree with someone’s personal choices, they should at least have enough compassion and grace to coexist with them. 

We all deserve the arts because it will maintain our humanity and make us better people. 

Alorie Clark is passionate about using the arts to engage community. She worked in the nonprofit arts sector for more than ten years, and has contributed to the local and national arts scene by working for organizations such as Step Afrika! and National Arts Strategies. When possible, Alorie offers her time inspiring young people and emerging arts administration professionals. She has volunteered for organizations such as The Washington Area Women’s Foundation, Arts Administrators of Color Network, Year Up, and KIPP DC. Alorie earned a Bachelor’s in Theatre Arts Administration from Howard University and a Master’s in Arts Management from American University.

January 15, 2021

There are several off-handed reasons I tell people why I love directing: I get to boss people around and it’s a darn good excuse to sport the beret/turtleneck combo. In all honesty, although each production has possibly aged me with more gray hairs I wouldn’t have otherwise and a hunchback from sitting in the dark scribbling incoherent rehearsal notes, one of the biggest benefits to directing is that it keeps my brain in shape. Having to keep up with the latest tech developments alone is tough; even for a millennial like myself, executing virtual theatre is no walk in the park, unless of course we’re talking about the one with dinosaurs and a snarky Jeff Goldblum. 

Over the last few years, I’ve learned that there are certain powers that come with directing for the stage that I don’t think I would have had the opportunity to develop otherwise. After studying Lucille Ball and Bugs Bunny for the better part of my childhood, I knew I needed to perform; however, it wasn’t until college that I realized acting was just the gateway opiate that leads to the director’s chair. And while sitting in that position of power, I’ve managed to recognize certain parts of myself I’ve learned to appreciate. 

I am durable. There are many hours, in the day and night, that go into making a production possible. During rehearsal, maybe one actor has ripped their costume and another one still doesn’t know their lines. There is no point in letting things I can’t control break my spirit. I learn to breathe, to meditate. 

I am an interpreter. No script is going to be interpreted the same way by two different directors. It is my job to explain my vision to those involved in the production and I may have to make some concessions along the way, but the final product to leave a profound mark on everyone involved. 

I am a reader. Always quite hungry for a new script to direct, I am constantly ingesting plays or source material for a work I can compose myself. As I grow older, I am always going to want to know more and make reading an essential part of my mental diet. 

I am an educator. I love to learn and spread knowledge. The best shows are those that teach the audience something they never knew, exposed them to a reality they would have otherwise avoided. I want the audience to leave with more questions than they came in with, to never stop asking more of the world. 

I am collaborative. I have had to learn to communicate effectively with many different personality types over the years, how to set team goals and respond accordingly when they aren’t met. I am not always right, and that’s fine. Working with others reminds me that I am indeed human and thrive off of the creative energy of others. 

I am tired. While I am trying my best to remain tough, there are so many uncertainties about the future of theatre that are too exhausting to contemplate. I will remain hopeful that patrons and policy makers are continuously reminded of its importance to the world at large. That more theatre artists who look like me are encouraged to create and share their visions with all of us.

This is what the arts have nurtured in me as I am sure it has done for many other artists. For me, theatre is the language that I speak most fluently. For as long as I can, I plan to always speak loudly, sure to project, because I don’t want my powers to go to waste. We all deserve to feel whole. We all deserve the arts.

Christen Cromwell is a Baltimore-based educator and theatre artist. A proud alumna of Baltimore City College High School, Johns Hopkins University (B.A.) and Notre Dame of Maryland University (M.A.T.), she is currently the Director of Play Development for the newly-founded Two Strikes Theatre Collective

January 8, 2021

YES! We All Deserve the Arts

2020 has been a bad year. A really bad year. A year that found all of us suffering from one degree or the other of profound anxiety, loneliness, grief and hopelessness. Yet there was one force resilient and powerful enough to penetrate the gloom. It connected and soothed, brought light into darkness, gave a feeling of hope where there was none; made us feel joyful, if only for a short time.

The arts – and all forms of creative expression.

A single operatic voice floating through the air from a balcony; others joining in, creating a symphony of connection and joy: virtual art exhibitions that transcended the barriers of place-based galleries, musicians performing in perfect unison from times zones apart, neighborhood voices singing in salute and thankfulness to the doctors and first responders who have worked tirelessly for all of us, theatre brought into our homes, children’s choirs singing from rooftops, dancers breathing new life into their craft.

Never has the uplifting spirit, transformational power and human need for the arts been so perfectly illustrated. And never have so many found a sense of wellbeing through the arts and creativity.

Creative expression through the arts is what distinguishes us as human beings. Art can be a connector. It is a powerful force, that can tell our truths and heal our hurt, bring hope to the darkest hours, chronicle lives and connect humanity, develop empathy, promote wellness and nurture those who live in chronic crisis. 

Arts can speak the truth. Art can break down complex emotions and translate them in shorthand, as we witnessed after the murder of George Floyd, Breona Taylor and others. Art can be a tool for justice. Art can build empathy and tolerance.

Art can transport the maker to a an inner dimension that knows no limits and offers the imagination boundless opportunity for expression. 

We all deserve the arts – that point should not be negotiable. We are hardwired to make art. It is sewn into the fabric of our beings and is found in every culture across the world. Art is an essential part of the human experience and must be part of every child’s education. 

AEMS is committed to ensuring that all students in the state of Maryland have access to high quality arts education. We envision a public education system in Maryland that supports, cultivates, nurtures, and uplifts ALL students’ creativity through a robust arts education experience so that they can thrive in a healthy society.

The Board of Trustees, Quanice Floyd, our intrepid executive director, and our amazing staff work every minute of every day to fulfill that vision. We thank you for your support and hope you will continue to join us in our efforts.

A twelve year AEMS trustee and three term Board Chair, Lyn Frankel is an arts advocate, novice artist and writer, and founding member of the National Aquarium’s Marketing staff.

December 18, 2020

Know Art Know Life, No Art No Life

Not enough people are informed about the transformative power of the arts, sadly that includes legislators, institutional stakeholders, and silent citizens. We must acknowledge how financially beneficial the arts and culture sector is to the US economy; $877 billion as of 2017 (1).  The multi-billion contribution in dollars amounts to jobs, construction, tourism, and cultural exchanges, all of which perpetuates the evolution of our civilization.  

The arts produce legacy-building symbols that outline a part of history meant to incite societal pride.  Belief systems were inspired by the implementation of paintings, buildings, and edifices which tell the stories of historical figures, deities, and architectural significance.  To remove the core educational existence of the history that brought us where we are today, would be a crime against humanity.  According to the United Nations, a crime against humanity is a “systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack” (2). Under both Ronald Regan (3) and Donald Trump (45) conservative leaders have made a clear stance against the continuation against national art funding, and while citizens continue to exercise their voices to preserve art, the uphill battle ensues. 

The very essence of what separates human beings from animals is our creative contributions to preserve the perpetuation of our development; both in symbolic form, literature, musings, and procreation. The fruition of our labors and contributions to the world are the children, tomorrow’s leaders.  Children are the future, if they are not exposed to the arts as a core subject in their education, the school districts would deprive them from fully appreciating the history of their predecessors. Our competencies thrive in an environment of advancing language, communication, culture, and morality.  The psychological development of humanity depends on the implementation of arts education. 

According to a research study conducted by the University of Cambridge, The Art of Co-Creating Arts-Based Possibility Spaces for Fostering STE(A)M Practices in Primary Education“Intuition stimulates imagination, which acts as an organizing process that creates representations of our learning experiences. Thus, imagination becomes a modeling device through which we can test possibilities and co-create enabling possibility spaces” (6).  An ongoing shared learning space with the inclusion of creative constructive learning yielded positive outcomes from the study, resulting in ground-breaking approaches to position Art as a comparable and useful science along with math, engineering, and technology. 

Too many people have quietly sat by and watched the arts being ripped out of schools, funding priorities, and commercial eco-systems. The impact of removing the arts from schools will certainly be monumental destruction for the future leaders of our evolving world.  Instead, we must nurture efforts to support and enhance art education throughout institutions world-wide. According to research, students exposed to art education are more likely to succeed in school, and eventually thrive in the workforce (7).  However, regardless of the research demonstrating the benefits of art, there has been a decline in access to arts education in primary & secondary schools (8).  The lack of prioritizing art education funding in schools has been and will continue to be cataclysmic to our children’s future more so in BIPOC communities (9).  Children deserve an opportunity for enriched culturally responsive art education, to deny arts education to youth is to deny them a future.  

#WeAllDeserveTheArts

Sources:

Shekhinah B. is a change-maker in the nonprofit and creative cultural sector.  She is an avant-gardist using creativity to connect communities, highlight emerging artists, and amplify underrepresented voices.  As an independent consultant and speaker, she uses her platforms to empower underserved populations. 
  1. https://nasaa-arts.org/nasaa_research/facts-figures-on-the-creative-economy/
  2. https://www.un.org/en/genocideprevention/crimes-against-humanity.shtml
  3. https://www.nytimes.com/1982/02/03/arts/reagan-expected-to-cut-spending-for-the-arts.html
  4. https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/68?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22national+endowment+for+the+arts%22%5D%7D&s=1&r=1
  5. https://news.artnet.com/art-world/trump-proposes-eliminating-nea-and-neh-again-1774236
  6. https://www.repository.cam.ac.uk/bitstream/handle/1810/274063/Rivers_Publication_STEAM_chapter_9788793609372C11.pdf?sequence=1
  7. https://www.americansforthearts.org/by-program/networks-and-councils/arts-education-network/tools-resources/arts-ed-navigator/facts-figures
  8. https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2012/2012014rev.pdf
  9. https://www.giarts.org/article/not-just-money-equity-issues-cultural-philanthropy

December 11, 2020

When I was 10 years old I was ushered into a room and shown a blue diagram with several brass instruments on it – instruments I had never seen before in my life. I chose that day to play tuba.  Little did I know that the tuba and I would begin a journey that would change my life forever. I went to a school in a tough part of town and, if I did not have music to occupy my time and peek my interest, who knows what trouble I may have found myself in. Music was my refuge; it was my escape from reality. Music saved my life and saves the lives of many children on a daily basis. Music gave myself and others a sense of community that was not available for us to experience after the school day was over. With school not being in session during this pandemic I can only imagine how difficult it is for some students to cope with not having band class or marching band after school.

As a band teacher, many students told me how much they looked forward to band class. It was the one class where they could be free, could be creative, and also put in the most work. Many students enjoyed the camaraderie, the chance to meet new students in the building, and the chance to perform for their community. Without band or art, some of these students would never experience these events in their lives. The arts provide so much for the mental and emotional welfare for our  students, that it is amazing that we are not considered a standard in education today. I have met countless adults who can remember their band directors mannerisms, band camp, the instrument they played, etc. These moments change the lives of our students for the better. 

Music teaches us to push beyond our scope of understanding and the doubts that others put on us. It allows us an opportunity to overcome odds and stereotypes that others put on us because of the color of their skin. Each day we have to make a decision to practice and reinforce good habits in ourselves. This is an amazing teaching tool for music students that affect their lives beyond the music classroom and practice room. Each day music teaches our students that they can become anything, through hard work and practice. 

Growing up I didn’t get a chance to see many Black classical musicians, and never heard of African American composers such as Florence Price or William Grant Still until my last year of college. While attending predominantly white institutions for my undergraduate and graduate degrees, I experienced many uncomfortable situations around race and music. The color of my skin spoke for me before I even played note. People would say I was only accepted into these schools because I was Black and the school needed to increase their diversity. These experiences can really break one’s self-confidence and belief in their own talent and ability. I experienced this as a teacher as well. My ensembles were never expected to make it to state band festivals and win as many championships as we did. However, I believe that my students gained so much from having at least one African American male teacher in their life. I was able to be a good role model and motivator to both Black and white students. 

In retrospect, all aspects of my life have been affected by the arts. I am able to live comfortably with my family, I am able to understand and digest varying points of views, and meet new people daily because of my experiences in the arts. Our children deserve the arts every day, not every other day on an A/B day schedule. They deserve to have these meaningful experiences every day.

#WeAllDeserveArts

Jarrel Garner is a graduate of Towson University and Peabody Conservatory of music. Mr. Garner has experience as a band director in both middle and high school settings. Under his leadership his ensembles have attended the MD State Band Festival and won grand champion awards at the Music in the Parks Festival. Mr. Garner is also tubist and assistant conductor with the 229th Army Band – MD Army National Guard.

November 13, 2020

This past week, Free Street Theater opened our virtual show, Re-Writing the Declaration – a play that calls on its cast (Black women, femmes and gender non-conforming people of color) and audiences to re-write one of this country’s founding documents in ways that centers and includes the very humans its pages has left out. This devised, participatory play unleashes the possibility of what can be when we allow ourselves the opportunity to reimagine what our world looks like and who it prioritizes. 

Re-imaginings should not be relegated to artistic craft. In these times, we’ve collectively had to re-write and re-imagine plans, programming, and pivot our work to meet the needs of our artists, audiences, and students. At the heart of these pivots is creative collaboration – an element that not only plays a critical role in the artistic process, but should be doubly critical as we move forward in advocating for and making policy decisions. 

On December 10, 2015, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) into law. Embedded in this re-writing of policy was a call for every state to have a system of school accountability and support, with considerable flexibility in how they design their system. Under ESSA, states can look beyond traditional academic indicators of performance, such as test scores, and consider multiple, holistic indicators of school quality and student success. Included was also the clear identification of the arts as an essential part of a well-rounded education, and a civil right for our students.

This was a tough concept for some folks to wrap their mind around when it came to the Illinois ESSA Fine Arts Indicator. In fact, when it was initially included in the statewide accountability plan (after months of advocacy by organizations like Arts Alliance Illinois, Ingenuity and other artists, educators, students, and arts leaders), it was weighted at 0% until a thoughtful measure was developed. 

In Illinois, Dr. Jason Helfer, Deputy Superintendent for Instructional Education at the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) charged the Fine Arts Indicator Work Group to be audacious in our thinking. Our work group, helmed by myself as director of public affairs at Ingenuity, Inc. and Jonathan VanderBrug, deputy director of civic engagement at Arts Alliance Illinois, wrestled with an important question: How does one meaningfully measure a critical key to unlocking the learning potential of so many students when it comes in so many disciplines and modes of delivery? 

We can learn a lot from devised theatre. At its heart is the building of an ensemble and a process wherein every member serves an essential contributor. This same approach was applied when we embarked on the development of the Illinois indicator. Building an “ensemble” of work group members from across the state, whom represented nearly every facet of the learning experience – students, educators, administrators, superintendents, labor unions, and data scientists – who were diverse in their lenses, disciplines, communities, and access to resources was a top priority in ensuring that we had as many representative voices in the room. 

Over the course of a year, this “ensemble” developed group agreements both for our process and for the indicator itself to help ensure that our students were prioritized as we ventured into this new world we were devising.

With over 500 combined hours of conversation over the course of a year, and after conducting the most extensive analysis to date of Illinois statewide arts education data to date, the work group narrowed the measure down from 42 potential measures to one composite measure:

  • The arts indicator is distinct, like other subject-specific indicators such as science proficiency, rather than being grouped with other learning areas.
  • The arts indicator will be weighted at 5% (5 points of 100).
  • And it consists of three sub-measures:
    • 3% – Participation – Student participation in arts coursework (which reflects students’ actual engagement rather than simply measuring access)
    • 2% – Quality – Measuring the quality of that learning by considering the qualifications of the teachers providing arts instruction.
    • 0% – Student Voice – Student perceptions of their arts learning via survey, which is weighted at 0%, as a placeholder, in recognition that such a survey is still pending development.

After two years of development and advocacy, our recommendation was unanimously adopted by the Illinois State Board of Education – a first in the nation that includes accountability for both elementary and high schools. When the measure is ultimately implemented in SY22-23, we will not only be able to see if and how schools are providing arts courses, but we will also be able to fully understand the arts education landscape across the state. This can help bolster case-making for the inclusion of the arts in state accountability systems nationally. It also serves as a call for all of us to continue to think creatively and audaciously about how we can best meet the needs of our young people, and that how it looks may be wildly different from the containers which currently exist in our collective systems.

ESSA serves as a call for arts education practitioners across the country to imagine a world where we not only have a seat at the table, but that including the arts as part of state accountability systems effectively changes how that table is now built. I encourage you all to look at the state of arts education in your respective communities and ask yourself, “How can we re-write, and re-imagine how the arts are included in our state’s education policies?”

Baltimore City Public Schools Fine Arts is an act that is good and getting better in spite of challenges, some historic, others due to the pandemic. Given the enormity of having to make an immediate shift in how we instruct in fine arts disciplines, our teachers rose to, and met the challenge of virtual instruction with fervor and grace. It seems only fitting that during National Arts in Education Week the real superheroes are highlighted and celebrated for their courageous efforts to go where no arts teacher in this lifetime has gone before… the virtual arts instruction frontier. I have the immense pleasure of working with a little over 200 visual and performing arts rockstars that rallied together to discuss, write and implement new curricula that would support a new way of teaching and learning. Our students and our teachers have been asked to do what was thought to be the impossible: engage in meaningful arts instruction without the interpersonal connections that fine arts teachers and their students thrive upon. Although we are just two weeks in for virtual instruction our teachers and students are making the best of our current situation.

Fitted with curricula that emphasize student voice and is reflective of artists with whom students can relate I think that we are well on our way to soaring beyond where even our imaginations can take us. While I could write pages about the challenges that we push against on a daily basis, I thought it more appropriate to herald the 200+ sliver linings I find in my work and 79,187 reasons I have to keep pushing for equity in arts opportunities for Baltimore City Public Schools. #WeAllDeserveArts.

#WeAllDeserveTheArts

Karla Estela Rivera (She/Her/Hers) is a writer, performer, activist, and arts advocate who has leveraged her gift of storytelling to uplift and create opportunities for, with, and in underserved communities. She is the Executive Director of Free Street Theater and a company member of 2nd Story in Chicago. Karla has served non-profit organizations for over a decade in roles spanning from teaching artist and youth worker to systems-level leadership in public affairs. She recently served as the co-chair of the Illinois Fine Arts Indicator work group which developed the nation’s first weighted accountability measure for the arts as part of the Illinois Every Student Succeeds Act plan. She is a native of Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, and holds a BA from Columbia College Chicago with graduate studies at New York University.

October 16, 2020

Throughout the summer of 2020, AEMS was honored to work with Bloomberg Arts Internship Fellows Jannah Muhammad & Ty’Candice Smith. They conducted interviews with a wide range of Marylanders, from students to the leaders of statewide arts agencies.

Please enjoy their culminating video, featuring selections of these interviews, supplemented by their own visual illustrations of the interviewees!

#WeAllDeserveArts

Jannah Muhammad is a Baltimore City Public Schools Student. She aspires to be a fashion photographer and branch out into film. She has experience in filmmaking, scriptwriting, editing, and photography, including the creation of her first film, a deeply personal project.
Ty’Candice Smith is a Baltimore City Public Schools Student. Her interest in art began with an art teacher who taught her that there were no mistakes in art and only new discoveries.

October 9, 2020

March 13, 2020 will go down in history as the day the earth stood still for arts education in many places, but specifically for teachers and students of Baltimore City Public Schools. This was the day that schools closed in Maryland for the first two weeks of a statewide quarantine due to the novel COVID-19. We didn’t know it at the time, but this would eventually result in schools across the state remaining closed to face to face instruction for the remainder of the school year. For already underfunded school systems like Baltimore City, this could have been catastrophic for fine arts instruction. For decades, Baltimore City Public Schools has been underfunded to the tune of about $342 million. I am taking the opportunity to write about the resilience of our teachers and our students amid the politics that often serve as barriers to many opportunities that are afforded to their counterparts in surrounding counties whose funding structures are different from that of the Baltimore City. Unequivocally we believe #WeAllDeserveArts.

Baltimore City Public Schools Fine Arts is an act that is good and getting better in spite of challenges, some historic, others due to the pandemic. Given the enormity of having to make an immediate shift in how we instruct in fine arts disciplines, our teachers rose to, and met the challenge of virtual instruction with fervor and grace. It seems only fitting that during National Arts in Education Week the real superheroes are highlighted and celebrated for their courageous efforts to go where no arts teacher in this lifetime has gone before… the virtual arts instruction frontier. I have the immense pleasure of working with a little over 200 visual and performing arts rockstars that rallied together to discuss, write and implement new curricula that would support a new way of teaching and learning. Our students and our teachers have been asked to do what was thought to be the impossible: engage in meaningful arts instruction without the interpersonal connections that fine arts teachers and their students thrive upon. Although we are just two weeks in for virtual instruction our teachers and students are making the best of our current situation.

Fitted with curricula that emphasize student voice and is reflective of artists with whom students can relate I think that we are well on our way to soaring beyond where even our imaginations can take us. While I could write pages about the challenges that we push against on a daily basis, I thought it more appropriate to herald the 200+ sliver linings I find in my work and 79,187 reasons I have to keep pushing for equity in arts opportunities for Baltimore City Public Schools. #WeAllDeserveArts.

#WeAllDeserveTheArts

Chan’nel Howard is the Coordinator of Fine Arts for Baltimore City Schools. She is a proud graduate of Baltimore City Schools and considers her work “soul work” as it gives her the opportunity to pay forward all of the love and investment made in her from music teacher during her tenure as a student in City Schools.

October 2, 2020

Artistic expression releases the creativity of its creator, and it inspires arts enthusiasts to use their imaginations to see the world from new perspectives. The arts open doors to social expression, emotional connections, and increased efficacy in academics (Silverstein and Layne, 2010). Painting, sculpting, music, dance – all of these disciplines afford children an opportunity to develop and enhance their coordination, build their confidence, and hone their talents. The value of arts education has been debated for years, and although there is a continuing movement toward arts integration and social emotional learning (SEL), Bowen and Kisida (2019) studied of over 10,000 upper primary and middle school students in Houston TX who were intermittently exposed to arts education, and concluded that have concluded that students receiving arts education had fewer disciplinary issues, increased efficacy in language arts, and amplified emotional capacity for compassion.

The National Parent Teacher Association (PTA) understands the value of arts education. For over 50 years, PTA has advocated for arts education and nurtured artistic development in public school students through its Reflections Arts Program and Competition. The goals of this program, that reaches over 300,000 Pre-K-12 students, encourages critical thought and ideas and the exploration of viewpoints, advances artistic literacy, and increases student confidence which helps nurture success in academics and in life. The Maryland PTA administers the Reflections program for the state with the goal of reaching every public-school student in every county in Maryland.

The Reflections competition features six arts categories at every grade division – dance choreography, film production, literature, music composition, photography, and visual arts. There is also a competition for special artists in each arts category. To enter, students must be students at a public school that meets the standards of affiliation with the Maryland PTA. And all submission must the original work of each student entrant.

By engaging children in the selection of contest themes, and then awarding winners for not only their talent but also their interpretation of the theme through their art form, Reflections builds confidence and success in the arts by supporting the social emotional learning needs of children. Part of the program’s success is that it allows students to produce and exhibit their comprehension as demonstrated in their art form. It also promotes student engagement in the creative process – from interpretation to performance – thereby connecting the art form and language arts. Students of every age can benefit from this approach because the competition helps them to draw on their prior knowledge and reflect on what a concept (theme) means to them. It also provides an opportunity for students to enrich their understanding of a concept (theme) (Silverstein and Layne, 2010).

Programs like the PTA Reflections Arts Program is a prime example of engaging students in the creative process and rewarding their efforts, thereby building confidence in each child’s ability to excel. Parents, staff, and faculty must consider the long-range aptitude of our students and the potential benefits of this type of arts engagement. All of us should consider their gifts and talents, and then encourage that development. Ask them: What do you do well? How can you use your creative self to do what I enjoy doing so much? Whether they sing, dance, paint pictures, do edits with photos or video, play an instrument, act, or take photos, we undoubtedly should support and nurture their talents, encourage them to hone their crafts, and engage them in activities that expand their artforms. Now is the time to get our students involved in the arts.

#WeAllDeserveTheArts

Dr. Tracy L.F. Worley, PMP, is a scholar and educator, writer, researcher, project manager, and independent motion picture producer. She teaches English and advanced composition in the University System of Maryland and she holds Masters Certificates in Project and Program Management, as well as degrees from Syracuse University (BA), Howard University (MFA),
and University of Phoenix (DM).

September 25, 2020

#WeAllDeserveArts: Art education is the most essential preparation for adult life

“How can I bottle this feeling, and pass it on?”

These were my thoughts as I sat in a fake broom closet made of plywood, on the stage of a 300-seat theatre, with a live audience of spectators totally wrapped up in the action that was taking place just outside my thin door. I knew that in less than 90 seconds, I would burst through the door – “shocking” the other actors onstage – in a scene that would culminate in the final climactic moments of the story we had been telling for almost 2 hours.

It was thrilling. It was one of a handful of moments where I realized, with searing clarity, how the experience of performing is so unique and special. There is an exhilaration that happens when extensive preparation is paired with the unknowable nature of live theater. The ways in which these types of experiences have helped me navigate situations in my adult life – situations that have nothing to do with theater or performing – are innumerable. Ask any actor to tell you a story of when they “went up” on their lines (essentially forgetting everything they’ve rehearsed for the past 6+ weeks) and you’ll get a fully re-enacted horror story of the initial embarrassment and shock, but then eventually, you’ll hear how they regained composure and powered through, despite wanting to crawl into a hole and die. Or you’ll hear how a fellow actor stepped in and saved the day, their brain able to adjust instantly under pressure and improvise a way out of the mess.

It doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to see how these experiences come in handy as one moves into adulthood. Think about being confronted by an angry customer making a scene in the shop you manage. Or how you would handle crowd control at an outdoor venue when the rope-line you ordered didn’t arrive in time. Or how you might quickly troubleshoot AV issues in front of an expectant crowd of 200 conference attendees in a hotel ballroom. (These are mild examples plucked from my work history – if you want to hear about my time as a sleep technician, we’ll need to grab a drink.)

My hope for students of all ages is that they can experience that exhilarating feeling – trying to paint the vision in their mind and not knowing what the next brush stroke will bring, or hearing their instrument play in harmony with their best friend after weeks of practice. In my experience, this feeling has been wonderful preparation for life, and the unknowns and challenges that come with navigating the world as an adult. Art is such a beautiful and forgiving way to practice the skills required to take that leap, trust your instincts, and face your fears. All children deserve the opportunity to practice these skills, and to have the preparation that will allow them to place their best foot forward as they grow into adulthood. Because if the year 2020 has shown us anything – there is no formula or playbook to follow in a crisis, or when things don’t go as expected. To be completely honest, as I type this, my 2nd grader is less than 10 ft away, shouting at her classmates in her Microsoft Teams meeting. I’m not quite sure how we’ll get through these next few weeks as I continue to attempt to work full-time and add value to the Foundation team – but I do know how to improvise and how to maintain a sense of humor when things seem impossible. And that will make all the difference.

#WeAllDeserveTheArts

Sabrina Thornton is the Program Officer for Creativity and Innovation at the T. Rowe Price Foundation, where she also oversees the Capacity Building program. She joined the Foundation team after working as an actress, director, producer, teaching artist and arts administrator at regional theaters across the US for 10+ years.

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