Arts Education in Browne with Greene

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."

The Grammys' Greene adds that art asks students to solve problems that reach beyond the strictly cognitive ones of learning math tables or vocabulary words. "They encourage the kind of thinking that industry wants to see more of in American schools," he says. Like other arts-education advocates, Greene recites statistics from the Scholastic Aptitude Testing service that show students with more than four years of studies in the arts scoring 59 points higher on the verbal and 44 points higher on the math portions of the test than kids without arts studies. He says the value of arts in schools isn't that it will bring the Grammy world more talent, but that it will give American industry and culture better thinkers.

"I don't think there's any doubt that the world now demands greater flexibility and versatility than at any previous time. What that means is that we have to train people differently, give them an expanded frame of reference and encourage them to do more than just memorize their math tables.

"We held a big seminar about the arts in Washington last year, and what came out of it was the fact that all of the big new industrialists, especially those involved in software development, are saying to the American educational system, you are not giving us employees who are creative, visionary, innovative and trained to think outside the box."

Both Hudson and Greene agree that talking the talk is one thing, walking it another. "One difficulty," says Hudson, "is you can't give the kids what you yourself don't possess, so if teachers lack the aesthetic appreciation or exposure to the arts, they may be less important to them. And they may believe that they're just a frill."

Yet even among art teachers, says Greene, some don't see exactly how the arts apply to other areas of learning. "We know that many art teachers still have a big investment in getting kids to produce 'school music' or 'school art.' They don't understand how making forms or notes or colors might be associated with solving problems in other realms of thinking. So, in some cases, the new focus on arts education might require as much teaching and retraining of the teachers as it does teaching of the students."

Educators say the strength of Trevor Browne's art program stems partly from its extending beyond the school, putting students in touch with national and regional artists who are sponsored by a variety of Valley arts organizations. Through the Scottsdale YMCA's Writer's Voice program, for example, the school has brought in professional writers to do readings and workshops. And thanks to grants from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, the Phoenix Arts Commission and corporate sponsors, it has hosted residencies for musicians, actors and other artists. It has also sent students to work with dancers, actors and writers at the Scottsdale Cultural Connections, a Scottsdale Cultural Council arts program for high school students.

Those are just the broad strokes. Last year, Hudson organized "Poetry Central," which brought student poets in the Phoenix Union High School District together with award-winning national poets. The event will be held again in April.

Hudson says that his band teacher's connection with the Phoenix Symphony has brought annual visits and workshops with ensembles of the Phoenix Symphony. Recently, the Arizona Opera Company worked with the school's advanced French students in studying the opera Romeo and Juliet. And this week and next, away from the ArtShare hubbub, writer Rita Magdaleno is doing a residency with students at the school.

What sets Trevor Browne's principal apart from other school administrators, says Sally Lindsay, of Scottsdale Cultural Connections, is his passion for connecting his students and teachers to exciting programs. "Too often," she laments, "we run into teachers who want to participate but can't because they don't have the support of their administration. In John Hudson's case, it's been more a matter of having to find ways to fit in everything he wants for the kids. Last year, his students came to us for dance. This year, he called us up and asked if they could be involved in our theater and writing groups as well."

ArtShare will no doubt make it easier for more school administrators to say yes to the arts. Less clear is whether the state can come up with an equally smart way to fund the schools, and attract more John Hudsons to run them.

ArtShare events get under way at 2 p.m. Friday, November 7, at Trevor Browne High School, on 75th Avenue just north of Thomas. For more information, call the Arizona Commission on the Arts at 255-5882.


All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories


All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >