NHS cast of Into the Woods

Celebrating Arts in Education

 National Arts in Education

The state’s advocacy organization for the arts and arts education—ArtsNC—asked board members to share stories about the reason they became arts advocates. Since we are celebrating National Arts in Education Week, it’s interesting to go back and read about a group of students that were so central to all my later advocacy efforts.

I remember walking into my daughter’s middle school one afternoon about 10 years ago where I was a volunteer and served as an occasional accompanist. For several years the arts teachers had produced a play in the Spring as an extracurricular activity, even creating original works with local composers. This day, the music teacher met me, slightly agitated, and said very quickly, “We’ve decided to do Oliver! this year and … you’ll play piano, won’t you?” [His primary instrument was guitar.] “We’ve hired a great director and the kids are really excited.” “Ah… well … OK … sure.” And we were off.

Middle school cast members of Oliver!

Orphans, Pickpockets, Thespians

A cast of 40 middle schoolers learning lines, choreography, music, and how to be pickpockets too. Parents and students searching out the perfect costumes. Recruiting a talented alum to play percussion and a local business to provide real sound and lights. Adapting the score for piano, drums, guitar, fiddle, and recorder. Scheduling rehearsals, researching program notes, designing posters, shooting photographs for publicity. Watching students work together, creating characters, blocking scenes, practicing vocal exercises, painting sets, learning harmony, helping design the choreography. It was thrilling. Here was a perfect project-based learning activity. Combining all sorts of disciplines. Engaging a wide variety of students and community. It was a play, it was a musical, but it was really just that in the service of something bigger.

Sowerberrys

Sowerberrys

I followed those students to high school where, for many, the Spring musical became the highlight of the year, from November to March. It’s an annual event, a collaboration of the entire arts education department and open to the entire student body. The faculty is the production team—the theatre instructor directs, dance instructors design and teach choreography, the visual arts instructor and students provide set design and publicity, band and choral instructors conduct and/or play in the pit, and teach the music to actors and musicians.

Set Decorators—Beauty and the Beast

Building the Beast’s Library

Those middle school pickpockets grew up to work on Once Upon a Mattress, Disney’s Beauty & the Beast, Into the Woods, Guys & Dolls, the 25th Annual Putman County Spelling Bee and Seussical. They traveled to elementary schools and introduced young students to live theatre. They played to standing room-only audiences. They turned the entire house into a glorious forest for Into the Woods.They were nominated for regional awards. They learned time management, how to create characters, collaboration, how to save their voices, how to share the spotlight, how to change keys six times in one piece, how to perform in the face of private fears and with the threat of a few very real tragedies. Dedicated, talented, creative teachers worked hundreds of unpaid hours to teach lessons with an incredible slight of hand that makes the teaching almost invisible.

Into the Woods

Northwood High School’s Into the Woods

From the time they entered middle school, these students had a yearly theatre project experience, involving a large number of students and teachers and parents. They got to work with experienced teaching artists and production professionals. There was a lot of community support and recognition for their efforts and the value of the project.

Students carried this enthusiasm and community and expectation all through high school. Looking back, quite a few went on to study dance, music, theatre, or visual arts. Some are still students.Others are educators, performers, journalists, social workers, arts administrators, lawyers, members of the military. What was the value and what was the impact?

There is lots of discussion about whether the value of arts education is arts for arts sake or for the kind of tangential benefits it can provide—increasing test scores, improving math or literacy or social skills or empathy or things like school attendance or civic engagement.  When I think of all these students, how can you ever say? It’s all these things. Some benefits for one. Different benefits for others. For some the arts will become a profession. For others an avocation. For others a vehicle for community or worship or recreation or education or rehabilitation. That’s why it’s so important to make sure all our students have access to such transformative experiences.

Celebrate and Support Arts in Education in your community.

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Celebrating Arts in Ed in My Neighborhood

Along with many, I’ve been celebrating the first National Arts in Education Week. As with any new project, there are a lot of details and more ideas than can be accomplished in a short amount of time. But here are some of the things that have gotten checked off my list.

  1. On Monday, we published NorthwoodArts 2009–2010: Celebrating a Gala Year. This is our annual report highlighting activities and accomplishments of the NHS arts education students and faculty. This accompanies a short video slide show of highlights we completed earlier in the summer.  We presented copies to the Chatham County Superintendent and School Board on Monday evening and posted the online version on our website.
  2. NHSAEF participated in Northwood’s annual Open House. Our local mayor issued a proclamation in conjunction with the national celebration and named it also Pittsboro Arts in Education Week. We shared the proclamation, the annual report, a calendar of upcoming events, met new students & parents, signed up new members and added folks to our listserv.
  3. [I spent Wednesday night as an arts student myself along with Duke students and community members, trying to master Creole for a Haitian anthem the Duke Chapel Choir has scheduled for Sunday.]
  4. On Thursday got some pix of the great banners NHS art students created for the school. Got copies of the annual report in the mail to our representatives in the State Legislature. Participated in a webinar by Americans for the Arts on their upcoming Creative Conversations in October before our ChathamArts Board Meeting.  NHSAEF will be a part of in this exciting initiative. Along with ChathamArts and the NHS arts department, we’re hosting a Creative Conversation at Northwood High School. Our friends from EbzB Productions, Serena Ebhardt and David zum Brunnen will lead an interactive discussion for teachers, students, artists, and community members on Arts Integration—What it is, how it works, and how it benefits students and teachers in all disciplines. In addition to being consummate  professional theatre performers, they have been trained by The Lincoln Center Institute and The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to teach AIE Workshops. It’s going to be an exciting beginning to National Arts & Humanities Month.
  5. I’ve tweeted and re-tweeted, posted to Facebook, sent emails, worn my Arts Create Jobs button courtesy of Arts NC.
  6. I’m off the ballgame to see our Marching Chargers perform Amusements. Their first competition is next weekend at Pinecrest Band Fest.
  7. Marching Charger BandOh, and I’ll be collecting your recyclables (laptops, old cell phones, digital cameras, ink jet cartridges, hand held games, etc) at the game for our Arts Ed Fundraiser