Personal Journeys with Gramma

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The Decline of the Arts? “You Don’t Know What You’ve Got ‘Til It’s Gone”


I read a study once that said the most reliable predictor of satisfaction a person will have with adult life is the level of involvement that person experienced in high school—not getting good grades, but participating in clubs, teams, musical groups or bands, project groups such as the one that compiles the yearbook or newspaper, and other activities. (What do you remember fondly from high school—if anything?) The arts and humanities elevate civilization.

When I first began teaching in high schools, the administrators took advantage of my naiveté to assign me as many extracurricular activities to sponsor as possible. I was cheap labor. In addition to teaching full-time, I directed the plays and musicals, sponsored the junior class (which meant I ran the prom), and acted as advisor to the school newspaper. In spite of the fact that our newspaper was eventually cancelled for not being conservative enough, I had a great time. So did my students. In other schools, I assumed charge of the speech team and traveled with them around the state—ending up at the national level (a competition one of my protégées eventually won…and defied his background in poverty to attend Harvard).

I tell you all this because I want to establish my credibility as someone who has seen the lifetime benefits of arts and humanities. In speech training, my students learned to listen critically, speak cogently, and present themselves with confidence. One shy student went on to create and run his own foundation that provides computers to disadvantaged children around the world. Today he’s an accomplished public speaker. Another former student directs a religious foundation with an active outreach component.

In theatre, my students worked on creative teams—ones that required good communication, mutual trust, and personal responsibility. They had to interact positively with diverse classmates—including those they didn’t like—and respect the contributions every person made to the final product. After all, without publicity, costumes, sets, and supporting players, the stars of the show can’t shine. Our ventures absorbed more than one young person on the verge of falling into bad choices—instead, filling his free time with rehearsals and his social calendar with nice girls. One executive told me her success in business was directly due to her college training in acting—great preparation for self-control in any situation.

As I look around today, I know many people were never blessed with that one teacher who rattled the cages of his or her young captives hard enough to jump start their thinking processes. But grants have spread opportunities to grow through the arts and humanities beyond schools. A few people find inspiration on TV—often on PBS with Sesame Street or stimulating programs such as NOVA, Masterpiece Theatre, or a dramatic series. Those adults who didn’t use their musical training in their careers may have used it to enhance their mental prowess with math or to combat advancing Alzheimer’s disease. And who wants to live without art? The popular saying goes, “EARTH without art is just EH.” The arts help keep us human.

I’m depressed to think that our federal government may cut funding to the arts (NEA), humanities, science exploration, public television, and public schools. Perhaps billionaires were isolated from the fun and satisfaction of programs that opened the doors of the world to people who would otherwise be among the haters. Perhaps billionaires don’t think the rest of us are worth the trouble.

3 comments on “The Decline of the Arts? “You Don’t Know What You’ve Got ‘Til It’s Gone”

  1. Frances Sullivan
    February 26, 2017

    Brilliant piece! I love and admire you even more. (How is that possible?) As for your last line I believe it’s the contrary. We are very much worth the trouble. Stifling and discrediting us is necessary. Sadly, and I’m painting with a broad brush, the minions have little understanding of critical thinking or altruism choosing to, instead, cling to an ‘us against them’ philosophy. By dividing they conquer, yes? Sigh. Anywho, again, stunning piece. xx

    • Personal Journeys with Gramma
      February 26, 2017

      As you of all people know, Frances (since you are, indeed, an artist), humanity has relied on and utilized the arts to enhance civilization since ancient pre-history. If any government believes it can separate the people from their access to the arts, that government is destined to fail. We use the arts, sciences, education, and altruism to resist being conquered by many or few. We pick ourselves up if we fall. Thank you for your generous assessment of my work, but I can’t take credit for the accomplishments of my students. A friend calls me a door opener. I do my best to open doors, and those of stout heart, sound mind, and a creative spirit walk themselves through.

      • Frances Sullivan
        February 27, 2017

        So, so true. And indeed, we can only shine a light 0r open the door. I say, here’s to opening doors no matter what goes on around us. 🙂 xx

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