This week, I have been on treasure hunt.
I am the Advocacy and Outreach Chair for the New York State Theatre Education Association (NYSTEA), which is sponsoring the creation of a PSA to promote performing arts as a critical part of the k-12 learning experience. Readers of my blog have heard me mention that Youth at Risk have greater success in school (success determined in multiple ways, from attendance to grades to type of class taken and more) when that school has an art-rich environment—including graduation rates, which are double (!!!!!) what they are at other schools. You can see that study here. For more research, check out this arts-in-ed research.
Yet the conversation about closing the achievement gap and about finding ways to keep youth on paths of constructive rather than destructive action often occludes the essential roles arts play in a school environment. Moreover, in an era when many of our children go to jail, or are valued only the world of gangs or cannot find their value anywhere, and become lost, and so on, it astonishes me that we ignore that power the arts have to impact the sense of self, community, history, human values and meaning/purpose of life! So here I am this week, commercial videographer Tom Hoebbel in tow, lugging gear around NYC to do interviews.
It has been such a deeply moving experience. Some of them are in the performing arts, some are not. Many have spoken of the the adult work world skills and basic life skills that theatre gave them, including the ability to work well as a team, deep listening, wanting critique/input, being able to give constructive feedback, hard work and delayed gratification, and the active practice of empathy. Nearly all of them told of feeling lost or shy in High School, like the world had no place for them …. until they were in the theatre. It was there that they were embraced for who they were, what they had to bring, and there that they were challenged to find a voice (literally and figuratively), and there that they learned how to be empathetic while being strong, to take up space but not more than your own.
There is absolutely no replacement for this kind of growth and no other safe environment in which to take these risks. In the upcoming weeks, we will be editing and revising to put forth the PSA, and I find I am excited about it, my faith in what I do renewed.