A Brief Tale on Supporting the Arts

You ever take a Humanities class and shrug your shoulders with a simultaneous “that was cool…” ? Well, I took one and said “that is what I’m doing with my life”.

So humanities is just a fancy word for the arts. I recently earned my Masters degree in Humanities but I have been involved with the arts, specifically theater, since the age of twelve. When I was young I thought I was so cool in the school plays, a cocky jerk who liked attention and applause. But when I got a bit older and joined a theater group with the Los Angeles Harbor College I really learned how much power the arts really have and how much bigger it can be than one actor.

The tour group I was in performed two plays called Are You Positive?, and America’s Youth. The first is about three teenagers that are directly dealing with AIDS and the latter is about seven teenagers that are separately dealing with issues like, alcoholism, suicide, date rape, and other forms of abuse. The tone of each play is hopeful and encourages education and communication. I was young when I joined the theater group, and was excited just to be performing a play; I had no idea how much this experience would teach me about culture and life. Over the four years of countless performances, our group was afforded the opportunity to travel to Arizona, Minnesota, Oregon, Idaho, and the international countries of England, and Belize. Each city and country contained a unique community and culture, but as different as all the children I met were, I realized that at our core we were all the same: all just scared children. The themes of our plays were relevant no matter where we went and helped to open the lines of communication between students and teachers, and students and parents. Every college we visited reported an influx of HIV testing immediately following our performances of Are You Positive? It was then that I realized that we were creating change. Through the performances of this play, and the impact we had on each school we visited, I learned the profound power of performance art. My theater studies and experiences at Los Angeles Harbor College proved to be more powerful than anything I had learned from a book or script in previous years. I learned that a performance art piece could in fact change a child, change a community. The college in Oregon we went to had one of those HIV testing truck set ups right outside of our performance space, and when the show was over we saw, to our surprise, the majority of the college students in attendance get in line to get tested. In that moment I thought how cool it was to see all these children, or young adults rather, like I was at the time, taking control of their lives, making the smarter choice. We went into every performance thinking if we could just reach one kid, then it would be worth it, and we could usually reach way more than one.

As a teacher now of the arts I still think that maybe if I can change the life of a child, then maybe I can change the world. I support the arts in school because I really feel our children can benefit from them along with all their equally valuable business and computer technology classes. But c’mon, technology makes us kinda nuts, and we need a break sometimes (she said from WordPress software). But really, the “smart phone” is the cause of a major change in school culture. They seem to have effortlessly put the world at our fingertips, but to my horror, they put the world at our fingertips! I worry our children feel they no longer have a need to look beyond their phones. Walking around campus is more like being lost in a sea of hunched shoulders and ducked heads of slow moving students who look like they are on some kind of anesthetic in serious need of the aesthetics!, also known as the arts. Students need an opportunity to look up from their phones and be woken up, to have all the senses engaged, to listen to music, to touch a sculpture, to watch a play, all of which will force them to feel something that hopefully is impossible to express through text messaging. I would hope to express that technology is just great, allowing us the unique opportunity to communicate to virtually anyone anywhere, but to use once United States Commissioner of Education Ernest Boyer’s words, “for our most intimate and more profoundly moving universal experiences, we created a more subtle, a more sensitive set of symbols–a richer language we call the arts.”

When you send your children to school, I hope that there is a budget for the arts, I hope that the PTA supports the arts, I hope, at some point in your child’s scholastic career, that she will be able to experience an art form that makes her really feel something in a way that a smart phone just can’t.

-Stefani Baez

Have thoughts about this article? Click here to tell us on Twitter!