More art! More arts education!

by Arts Council of Tamworth on October 31, 2013

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One of my jobs around here is to write letters to our elected officials letting them know about each publicly funded grant we receive and how it benefits our community. Here is my letter to our local and state officials after September’s Zili Misik residency.

Dear x,

Last month we were privileged to have the extraordinarily talented ethnomusicologist, percussionist, singer and teacher Kera Washington here with us for two days of workshops with every student at the K-8 Brett School and with community members of all ages. She was joined on the second day by the rest of Zili Misik, a multinational, multiethnic seven-woman Afro-Caribbean soul band. They performed at the school—every student had an opportunity to drum, sing or dance with the band—and they performed for the community at large in the evening, one of our Choose Your Own Ticket Price performances, accessible to all. This residency was funded in part by a grant from the New England Foundation for the Arts.

At one point during a workshop with middle school girls, Kera encouraged a female student to let the voice of her drum speak more loudly. When she was in 8th grade, she said, she didn’t know it was possible for a woman to play the drums; she had never seen or experienced such a thing. You all, she said, are lucky to know at your age that this is possible. During the evening performance Kera invited any Brett students in the audience to join the band on stage to play the Ibo rhythms they had learned during the residency. It was chance that four girls were the ones who had the courage to come play in front of so many people, and very moving to see them up there playing alongside seven talented adult women.

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Many facts have been coming together for me this fall: The National Endowment for the Arts budget is a little over $150 million. According to Gregg Easterbrook, author of The King of Sports: Football’s Impact on America, pro football receives around $1 billion a year in public subsidies. At a local level, we bus our kids all over the state regularly to play on sports teams, but only rarely for cultural activities. (New research by Greene, Kisida and Bowen documents the myriad benefits of cultural field trips, particularly for underserved students.) While I love sports and believe my children learn valuable lessons on the field, education in the performing, literary and visual arts raise children’s capacity against so many benchmarks. Greater access to arts education correlates directly to improved test scores across the curriculum, to greater empathy and community spirit, to the development of grit and determination— the willingness to experiment, to fail and then to try again. And kids are not the only ones served by arts education. One small example: a number of medical schools around the country, including Harvard and Yale, are partnering with art museums. Medical students who complete a curriculum that focuses on learning to analyze art are demonstrably more effective diagnosticians after the class than before.

Our work in this small town benefits our students and the community in so many ways, and is so challenging to fund. I understand the budgetary travails we face at the state and federal level. I believe we can cut funding in many areas, and I believe that increasing funding for the arts will benefit our businesses, our economy, our students, and our state and nation as a whole. Please support funding for the arts and arts education.

Thank you for all your hard work on the behalf of the citizens of New Hampshire.

Yours,

Juno Lamb, etc.

While state and federal support for the arts is enormously important as a marker of the degree to which our society values the arts, local support is our life blood (a little Halloween nod for you there), without which we cannot subsist. Please donate if you support this work and believe it strengthens our children and nourishes our community.

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