Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Feeling Glee-ful

“…'Glee' is about the importance of arts education, so I would like to dedicate this to all my teachers who taught me to sing and finger-paint." --Ryan Murphy, “Glee” co-creator upon receiving a 2010 Emmy Award for Best Director of a Comedy

It will be National Arts in Education Week very soon. As one of the three “legs of the stool” on which our mission, vision, and goals rest, arts education figures quite prominently in the work we do at the Council. Like almost everyone I know, I am constantly impressed and amazed at the dedication and skill of the art, music, dance, and theater teachers at our schools. Although most have support networks (VATA, VMEA, and the VAAE), few believe their job is ever truly secure. Budget cuts tend to first focus on the arts and almost never on math, science, or physical education (hint to dance teachers…if you’re not already doing so, get your dance classes classified as Physical Education. You will sleep better at night!)

Into this mix comes the Arts Council with its particular focus on the teaching artist: the professional artist who either has or wants to become proficient at handling the various rules and regulations that are required for “serving it up” in a classroom setting.

We believe in the transcendent (or transformational) power of the arts to heal or empower or inspire students to achieve—not just in the arts but in life. We are convinced that creating art and bearing witness to art created/performed by others is among the most important things a young person experiences. And anyone who has gone through the agony/ecstasy of a recital, an opening night, a showcase, or any other public display where one’s “art” is featured, can tell you of the profound life lessons such events provide. Although occasionally these experiences are miserable and even destructive, for the most part, kids who survive tend to thrive, though not always as artists.

In a recent post I excoriated our Vermont education system for pretending it will succeed in the face of 20% cuts to personnel, eliminating specialists in the arts, sports, etc. In today’s post I want to draw attention to some of the positive things that are happening in Vermont's schools and arts-training programs--some of which are as professional and entertaining as anything you might see on television.

The New England Consortium of Artist-Educator Professionals (NECAP) will hold its annual conference in Brattleboro, VT on Thursday, September 23rd. Featuring world-renowned “new vaudevillian” artist Michael Moschen, the day is packed with workshops, lectures, and demonstrations. It is a great opportunity for teaching artists in all disciplines to network and share their varied experiences across New England.

The Arts Council has launched its new “Cultural Routes” initiative—a rapid-response grant program to help offset transportation costs related to delivering school children to performances at cultural institutions. These performances are frequently cited as the only professional performing arts experiences a child will have during the year. Helping schools in this cash-strapped economy will, we hope, keep this vital opportunity available to a broad cross-section of Vermonters.

More and more, our local arts presenters are taking leadership roles in delivering high quality arts-education experiences to their communities. Leading the way in Vermont is the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts whose programs and services include student matinees, camps, workshops, student passes, study guides, and curricula. But there are many others (and forgive me for presenting an incomplete list) such as Burlington City Arts (also in Burlington), River Arts (Morrisville), Catamount Arts (St. Johnsbury), Studio Place Arts (Barre), Chandler Center (Randolph), Weston Playhouse (Weston), Vermont Arts Exchange (No. Bennington), and Brattleboro Museum and Arts Center (Brattleboro), throughout the length and breadth of our small state that year after year deliver the goods.

There are the compelling programs for high school age artists of all types from the year-long Vermont Youth Orchestra and New England Youth Theatre in Colchester and Brattleboro, respectively, to more focused and discipline-specific projects like Vermont Stage Company’s Young Playwrights Project, to the well-known, two-week long “retreat” at Castleton State College known as the Governor’s Institute in the Arts. These programs focus much more on the budding creative artist and help prepare them for post-secondary and professional success as artists.

And finally, I would be remiss in not drawing special attention to G.R.A.C.E. in Hardwick—a program founded in 1975 to provide lifelong learning opportunities to elders and underserved populations throughout Vermont, and to showcase the best “outsider” art Vermont has to offer.

These institutions and many others [feel free to send me links to others I haven’t mentioned!] do so much to educate and enlighten all of us. They are the vanguard of the new arts education movement. And they all deserve our support.

Sometime in the next 20 years there will surely be another talented artist or producer or director who will pause while receiving her Emmy, Grammy, or Oscar and say “You know, the only reason I am here tonight is…I’m from Vermont.”