Above: A May 2009 performance by members of Inside Out Community Arts
Early in my teaching career, a veteran art instructor passed on a very wise observation to me. She told me:
"Think of education as a flowing stream of water. Some of your students are going to be sponges, ready to soak up the flow, while others are going to be rocks who simply can't absorb education of any sort. Your main job as an art teacher is to open students up: you can help turn the rocks into sponges."
As I now enter my 25th year of teaching art at a community college, that one observation stands as the wisest advice I ever got. What the arts do is to transform people, to make them receptive. A student who experiences the arts gains invaluable insights into his or herself, and also into others. The arts open people up like no other kind of educational experience can.
The way I see it, you can fund schools, hire more teachers, and re-design curriculum, but you won't be teaching anyone anything if your students are "rocks." If you are a teacher, you already know this. If not, ask any teacher you know "How many students do you have that have simply shut down?" Math teachers, English teachers and history teachers are wasting their time when they face students who are defensive, scared and hardened.
Young people who haven't had the security to open up to educators or to others can't grow as students, or into healthy members of our society. If you watch Glee you have seen this process, at least a kind of soap opera meets Broadway version of the process, but you get the idea.
Growing up is hard enough under any circumstances, but when you think about just some of the issues that young people are facing -- drugs, divorce, gangs, financial hardship, stressed out-parents, depression -- there are a lot of forces out there that can cause good kids to shut down and become unreachable. The arts can reach them and help them change, and that is why the availability of quality arts programs is so vital.
If you see it my way, I think you are going to be very touched by the amazing work being done by "Inside Out Community Arts" an organization based in Venice, California. This organization, founded in 1996 by actor/educator Camille Ameen and actor/writer/director Jonathan Zeichner has it exactly right. Here is what they do:
"Through the arts, Inside Out Community Arts promotes healthy interaction among diverse at-risk and underserved Los Angeles middle-school youth. Led by specially trained teams of professional artists and high school age mentors, Inside Out bridges cultural, geographic, socioeconomic and differently-abled boundaries to support youth in creating and presenting topical theater and art, empowering them to make positive choices as individuals and members of the greater community."
The approach taken by Inside Out works: this organization GETS it. Glance at a few sentences from the testimonials found on the Inside Out website to get some idea of the transformations that have occurred:
"Inside Out gave me the courage to believe that if I put my mind to something I could do it. They taught me how to express myself through writing, a passion that has never left me."
"This program also helped me to look deeper and deal with the issues in my life and childhood that made me so angry."
- Rafaela Espinoza
"Inside Out kept a lot of us away from negative influences of the inner city. Things such as drugs and gangs were not an option for us because we were stimulating our minds with creativity."
- Tramaine Austin Dillon
Are you still with me? Would you like to help? Inside Out is facing financial challenges as the Great Recession has caused a "perfect storm" of financial issues, and corporate gifts have declined. Several members of the organization's board recently loaned Inside Out over $40k from their own pockets to deal with ongoing financial challenges.
At a time when arts programs in Los Angeles schools are facing substantial cutbacks due to the failure of Measure E, the work that Inside Out does is more precious than ever.
There are three ways you can help:
1) Just click on the link below and make a donation online:
Click Here to Make a Donation Online
2) Bid on some of the great auction items now on eBay in support of Inside Out.
3) Visit the Inside Out website and find out more about the organization, and about how you can donate your time and energy.
You can also use the links provided by Huffpost to Facebook and Tweet this article to help spread the word about Inside Out Community Arts.