A few nights ago I was treated to a remarkable display of creativity and artistry. The performers drew raucous applause, hoots, hollers and a standing ovation for their singing, dancing, comedy routines and impressions.
Oh, and the performers are all still in elementary school.
Yes, my own children were among those on the stage (with a hilarious dramatization of Mo Willems’ book “The Duckling Gets a Cookie!?”) but even if they’d instead been in the audience with me, I would still have been impressed, and even moved, by what I saw.
Now, some of the children were born performers, quite literally taking the stage with a fearless gusto. Others were clearly quite nervous and not at all comfortable in front of an audience. Regardless, those watching were, as you might expect, extremely supportive and ultimately every performer left the stage with a huge smile and indelible memories of what may either be the beginning of a career in entertainment or a true “one night only” show.
I write about this today, in part, because the President of this country recently submitted a budget proposal that would end the federal government’s support for a number of artistic programs, including (but not limited to) the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
First, let me say it is not my intention to “get political” in this space. I understand that everyone has a right to support whichever political party or candidate they see fit and I’m not here to advocate for or against your choice.
Second, let me also note that my children’s school has a robust arts program because of a Boosters club that supplements the school’s budget with additional funds specifically for programs like music and arts education.
So I’m not necessarily saying that government can be the one and only source of funding for such programs. But, I do believe that government should prioritize programs that benefit its citizens by creating a better quality of life for all. And there is no doubt in my mind that fostering creativity qualifies in that respect.
Bear in mind, the talent showcase of which I write is but one way our (public) school is developing the, well, talents of our children. On the same day of the show, my daughter brought home a packet detailing the guidelines for her STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) project, required of all students in the school’s GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) program. She’s planning to collaborate with her friend to build a robot dog that, like a real animal, might relieve itself on your rug. In other words, the creativity I speak of fostering has applications far beyond a little singing and dancing on stage.
Indeed, I know that very few of these kids will pursue a career in the arts. That is, in fact, the point. Virtually every industry and career choice requires individuals who are creative thinkers and problem solvers. We need people capable of tapping into both sides of their brain. Sure, we need to be able to crunch the numbers, work with the data, analyze the results and propose rational solutions to a problem. But we also need to be able to brainstorm ideas and think creatively about how we might approach resolving the problem in new and innovative ways.
So, if we only focus on the performance itself, providing an opportunity to a six year old to sing “You Are My Sunshine” on stage may not feel like a priority. But if we look at how the experience changed her brain, if we understand that the synapses she created between neurons might help her one day find a new approach to treating cancer or design a self-driving car, then maybe investing a few bucks in arts education should be a priority after all.