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Honoring The Arts In San Francisco

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"Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand."

It seems to be a fair assumption that Albert Einstein, the author of the quote above, would have felt right at home in today's Bay Area. We are one of the most innovative communities in the world. We are not only the home of Google, Facebook and Twitter, but to leading graphic design firms, world famous museums and art galleries, and some of the best Universities in the world. We promote art wherever we can -- from our airport and schools to storefronts and cultural centers. Art is a priority for San Francisco because we've seen the result of what happens when people think outside the box, socially, intellectually, and technologically -- innovation.

Yet, like many areas of the country (and the world), the economic slowdown has stricken our ability to nurture the kind of educational opportunities that reward just the type of imaginative thinking that Einstein believed so important.

When cuts to school budgets are the order of the day, inevitably one of the first casualties is funding for the Arts in public education. It doesn't matter that studies have shown that an art education teaches children how to think critically and creatively. Or that research indicates that whether they eventually become doctors, businesspeople, or any other profession, those children who had a rich education in the arts are better off in their eventual career choice.

The Arts are still the first to go.

This summer, a lot of talented youth in San Francisco will have no other option than free time. Summer school programs have been cut, and summer jobs are harder to find than at any time in recent history. On top of that, families are stretched financially, making it more difficult to pay for a summer program.

A local high school teacher here in San Francisco, Elli Shahideh of John O'Connell High School, recently stated, "As an art teacher at a public school you soon realize that you need a lot of outside help beside the district." This is no slight on the district. In San Francisco, the school district is as dedicated to arts as any in the country. But during times like these, the schools don't have the resources to provide every student with an art education.

As a result of San Francisco's passion for the arts, there are a variety of powerful partnerships throughout the city that allow students to continue to explore their dreams and discover opportunities -- even during these difficult times. The Boys & Girls Club, for example, has numerous kids clubs around the city dedicated to helping youth develop their creativity and cultural awareness through appreciation of the arts. And of course, San Francisco announced earlier this summer that it is an official "Summer Learning City" that is dedicated to ending "summer learning loss." As a member city, San Francisco public, private, and non-profit sectors coordinate summertime programs in hopes of increasing outreach and serving kids most in need of healthy, educational, and recreational opportunities over the summer.

Over the years, thousands of high school students have received summer scholarships to the Academy of Art University's pre-college program. The goal of the program is to provide students with an opportunity to make the most of their summers by taking art courses -- we also offer students the same opportunity on Saturday's during the school year. The majority of students enrolled are socially and economically disadvantaged. Some are experiencing the arts for the first time, others further explore their dreams of a career in an art or design field. They get the opportunity to learn from top Academy of Art instructors, who are professionals in their fields and who can show students, for example, how video game design work requires a foundational knowledge of art. For many of these students, their summer experience could unlock skills and passions for their future endeavors.

We are currently in the middle of our six-week session and, happily, classrooms are packed. We have seen the need and heard from parents and art teachers about the cuts to art classes and are thrilled to be able to fill this important hole in the Bay Area. Students are taking classes like Drawing and Composition, Multimedia Advertising, Video Gaming, Introduction to Web Design, Writing for Comics, Fashion Merchandising, Screenwriting Basics, just to name a few.

Here in San Francisco, we are home to an Innovation economy. Some of the most creative and successful companies in the world are located here. In order to continue to fuel our innovation economy, education has to be our region's top priority. If we want to have our next generation be one that is as imaginative as today's -- and if we want students and future professionals to be able to drive the economic engine of the 21st century -- then we must continue to honor the Arts in San Francisco, like we always have.