Arts Education in Browne with Greene

ArtShare wonks trace arts connection to jobs, baseball and the SAT

From his office in Los Angeles, Michael Greene, head of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS)--the Grammy people--is waxing passionate about the similarities between playing musical instruments and playing baseball.

"The concentration, the focus, the losing of oneself in what you're doing," he says quickly in a Georgia drawl. "That's what you do in a jazz band or a symphonic orchestra, and it's what you do out on the baseball field.

"Maybe that's why I really could walk straight from a ball field to a concert stage and, other than being a little too sweaty and not dressed correctly, not miss a beat."

Which just about describes what he'll be doing this week in Phoenix. Wednesday and Thursday, he was to take the diamond with his L.A. baseball team for a series of senior-league tournament games. On Friday, November 7, he's taking the dais in the auditorium of Phoenix's Trevor Browne High School--one of the Valley's most arts-minded nonmagnet public schools--to help kick off the public-awareness campaign for Arizona ArtShare, the state's new endowment fund for the arts.

Greene's ability to make arts advocacy sound more like a blue-collar mission than an elite cause is undoubtedly one reason the Arizona Commission on the Arts invited him to the kickoff. Yet he also represents the link that educators and arts administrators are always trying to make between what kids study and what they become, a basic theme of the event. In addition to Greene and other ArtShare and arts-education advocates, there will be music by local Grammy-nominee William Eaton, the Phoenix Symphony String Quartet, and Trevor Browne's orchestra and jazz choir.

Shelley Cohn, executive director of the Arizona Commission on the Arts, which in 1999 will begin disbursing the yearly interest earned by the endowment, says that the combination of Greene and Trevor Browne High School in the show highlights the kind of private/public and cultural/educational partnerships that the endowment is intended to foster throughout the state.

ArtShare supporters say that Trevor Browne's faculty and principal, John Hudson, have determinedly given the arts a prominent role in student life at the school. At the same time, the extensive community-outreach programs that NARAS has promoted under Greene since the late 1980s demonstrate how organizations can effectively share their commercial wealth with their needier educational and nonprofit cousins. And that helps map out possibilities for ArtShare in the future.

Cohn explains that the Grammys do more than sponsor awards shows and performances by major artists in big venues. "They also support many smaller venues," says Cohn. "Their foundation teams up with organizations around the country to sponsor a lot of programs that bring music and related arts into the communities and schools. This is really the crux of AZ ArtShare--putting money from commercial amusements to work in the nonprofit area."

This past July, ArtShare got its first of 10 annual infusions of money from the state's 5 percent amusement tax on tickets to movies and cultural and sporting events. With up to $2 million going into the fund annually, supporters say the endowment could eventually total $20 million in public revenues and an equal amount in private donations. Steve Carr, an ArtShare spokesman, says it's premature to speculate how much money the endowment might generate for school programs and the state's more than 430 nonprofit arts organizations. Yet 5 percent interest on anything near the $40 million in public/private funds clearly would go a long way toward changing the state's reputation for being chintzy about culture and arts education. Arizona ranks about 30th in per capita spending for the arts. Last year's $2.5 million arts appropriation boiled down to about 62 cents per Arizonan. This year's $3.1 million--including the trust fund's untouchable share of $1.2 million--raised the sum to about 75 cents a head. The national average is around a buck.

The optimism isn't confined to the endowment. Educators say that the recently approved state and federal standards for arts education reflect growing--if somewhat grudging--recognition that the arts are as basic to education as Principal Hudson, Greene and others have long believed them to be.

Hudson traces his interest in the arts to his father, who played piano in the stride style of Fats Waller, and grandparents who were opera fans. He grew up in Boston and went to school just down the street from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Before becoming principal at Trevor Browne two years ago, he headed Bostrom High School, the alternative high school in the Phoenix Union High School District, and taught science.

"A person with an experience is never at the mercy of someone with an argument," says Hudson. "So whenever you involve kids in the arts, you're involving them in a higher order of thinking skills. Whenever kids say, 'I like it' or 'I don't like it,' the next logical question is, why? Learning in the arts immediately demands interpretation, analysis and appreciation. It demands a sense of order and certainly discipline--things that develop kids' minds.

"If you study music, you study math. If you study voice, literature or the visual arts, you can't avoid the idea of composing and composition. When you give students a sheet of music, you're giving them inherent problems of interpretation, of performance and understanding what the composer wanted them to see. Put cameras in kids' hands, and you are asking them to solve a very particular kind of problem in composing pictures."

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