A little more than 100 movers and shakers in the arts community gathered last Thursday at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center to talk about the state of the arts in education. It was the second of four such meetings to be held across the state. Its purpose was to both present some information and to gather some.
Presenting were Anne B. Pope, executive director of the Tennessee Arts Commission, who spoke, and Normal Park Museum Magnet School principal Jill Levine, Unum vice president of investor relations Thomas White and Dr. Jean Heise, humanities supervisor of Knox County Schools. They were part of a panel discussion moderated by Ann Coulter, principal of A. Coulter Consulting.
The message was simple and clear - so simple and clear one has to wonder why 100 people have to gather in Chattanooga or anywhere else across the state to talk about it. But there we all were, again, listening to people talk about how the arts are important in education.
"It is a bit preaching to the converted," Pope told me, "but this is also about understanding the community and the marketplace and what the needs are."
Again, the answer is so simple it's startling. The needs, or need, really, is money. With money, our schools could provide the teachers and the resources our kids deserve. The statistics and numbers from studies are there in abundance: Students who have arts education as part of their curriculum learn to solve problems better, express themselves better, think creatively, use their imaginations and are happier. So much happier, in fact, that in most cases, they actually want to go to school.
For example, Heise said that in one Knoxville school, administrators added art to the afternoon session of their summer-school classes. The catch was that students had to attend the morning session to attend the arts classes in the afternoon. Two years ago, 60 percent of the summer-school students quit coming. Last year, after the implementation of the art classes and the new requirements, only one child quit coming.
So why was Pope in town, and why did this meeting need to take place?
"We have to keep getting the message out and repeating it over and over," she said. "Someone asked Georgia O'Keeffe why she painted her flowers so big. She said, 'So people will see them.'"
Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6354.