Eloise and I walk to school every morning. In August when it’s already sweltering at 8:30, and even when it rains, we link hands and stroll the mile or so, savoring the time to chat and connect. She leads the conversation, and we usually discuss topics like songs she wants to write, good book titles, and cookies. She teeters along every retaining wall and collects rocks and acorns. If we’re running late, we eat breakfast along the way. Our simple morning ritual is so important that she cries if we miss it.
Recently, we discussed her first grade social studies unit on community helpers. Students colored pictures of people with helpful careers like teachers, firefighters, cooks, and janitors. They researched the careers and discussed their roles in building community.
My usually blithe daughter stopped suddenly and looked up at me with a deep shadow of concern in her eyes. “I think I need to tell my teacher about the community helpers she forgot,” she declared solemnly.
“Oh?” I paused, sensing where my little thinker was headed with this conversation, “Which helpers did she forget?”
“There weren’t any coloring sheets for singers!” she exclaimed, “She also forgot painters, dancers, and lots of other artists.”
“Hmm…well, let’s think about the helpers she remembered,” I ventured, “What do they have in common? Do their jobs meet our needs or our wants?”
“Needs, Mom, their jobs are needs like learning, safety, and getting trash,” she replied hurriedly, “but, Mom…inspiration is a need, too.”
Of course my heart leaped and I hugged my little artist, not just for believing so fully in the importance of supporting the arts for the sake of artists, but also for the impact the arts have on building community. She went on to tell me how she feels like listening to music or looking at art makes everyone’s heart happy, and having a happy heart is the most important part of being alive.
“Really, Mom, feeling inspired by art is more important than having cooks in a community because people can always eat at home. Art shows you something new.”
Arts Education keeps dropping on the priority list in our country. It makes me sad to see art teachers bouncing around all week, spending only a day or so at a particular school. The other days, the art room is dark and locked as if to say that creativity is only a part-time activity, not something everyday. When I was in school, I would sneak into the art room at the end of the day to ask Ms. Toby about various projects and to take home leftover supplies. She was there every single day. We could check out instruments from Mrs. Roberts, too, and I brought home a tambourine or a triangle at least once a week. Now, the arts are just an afterthought in schools if they are there at all.
Of course, not everyone who plays piano grows up to be a virtuoso, and picking up a paint brush in Kindergarten doesn’t mean that student is going to be an artist. The arts build so many skills that are useful in all careers, though, like creative problem solving, teamwork, and even math and reading. Personally, I think that’s what the recent abhorrent Wells Fargo campaign that seemed to bash the arts was trying to express: Even if arts education doesn’t lead to a career in the arts, it still builds skills that create better citizens and stronger communities.
Simply put, arts and inspiration are basic human needs.
This isn’t a new idea, and we could discuss this issue forever. While it’s important to use our vote to advocate for Arts Education, it’s even more critical to act today to enrich the lives of young humans. Activism and policy change takes time, but we have the power to share the arts with kids every single day.
The first task is to step away from massive media consumption at home. Turn off the TV and the phone, take a break from social media, and connect over something creative. It wasn’t that long ago when families played music and sang together for entertainment. Today, most musical people I know think about how to make a career out of their talent. I think we should take the time to savor our creative gifts simply for the joy they bring. Experience art for the creative moment and the human connection and forget about the potential commercial value, even if just for an afternoon.
It’s important to get messy, let kids explore, and provide them with materials to try new things. Eloise really wants to make clothing. Sometimes, I give her small sewing tasks in the creation of one of her projects, but I generally let her explore and experiment in a way that works for her. Eloise draws a lot of clothing and uses a ton of tape. Occasionally, she asks me to construct a design for her, and we play designer and seamstress. If I bogged her down with sewing fundamentals, the joy of creation would fade away. I celebrate that her way of creating clothing is the right way because she is expressing herself unhindered.
I make a point to open up opportunities for creativity around other kids, too. I can’t tell you how many times Eloise and I have been at the library examining a book on a favorite artist and suddenly had a crowd of other children gathered around sharing their ideas. All it really takes is making sharing the arts a priority to make a difference. Even if arts get cut completely from school curriculum, we can still find creative ways to meet our communities’ needs to inspire, create, and connect.