I recently started volunteering at an LA-based non-profit called P.S. ARTS that brings funded arts education to various Los Angeles public school districts. Art classes in school have always felt like a very special and necessary thing and with all of the cuts we see these days around the country, it gave me a little bit of solace to know there was an organization out there trying to remedy that gap. On getting involved, one of the things they asked me about was what my arts education meant to me. I started to contemplate that and it seemed like this vast array of color and enthusiasm that I would never be able to navigate. But then when I started to narrow it down a bit, I came to the obvious, and important conclusion, that without an arts education, I would not be the person I am today.
It's hard to think about where it all began -- the decision to be an artist, of sorts, for the rest of my life. I can link it back to so many things, but one of my earliest memories pops into mind. When I was in preschool, we did a production of Henny Penny ('the sky is falling, the sky is falling'). True to my nature, I was a bit grumpy when I found out I would only have the small role of being one of the baby foxes, while my other friends got to play the leads. I was four, so forgive me if my memory of it isn't sharp, but even though I was just a baby fox, not a goose, not a hen, I felt this enormous sense of ownership of the play, of my role, of being in this show that took place in our tiny classroom in the basement of a New Jersey townhouse. I would not relent, I would not mess up, I would not forget my lines. Even though I respected the roles of my classmates and teachers, as much as any four-year-old can comprehend that idea of that, I felt that this play was mine and it has thus stuck in my mind almost twenty years later.
So what did I want to be when I grew up? I wanted to be that same kid I was at age four. I wanted ownership of something creative, to be proud of and responsible for something larger than myself. The various avenues that art classes throughout elementary, middle, and high school took me down led to unknown places with different people. They showed me skills I didn't know I had, but more importantly, introduced me to as many ways I could imagine of expressing myself. It always sounded corny, 'expressing yourself.' Did I really need the help to say who I was, how I felt? The answer for most of us is, yes. We do. We need an immense amount of help to really get to the core of it, to find ourselves in a better, more secure place.
There was a moment in middle school when I was asked to join an afterschool arts program. Now, who is to say how my middle school art teachers really judged that my artistic capacity was good enough for this program? But, it felt like a sort of validation, and I think for some reason validation proves important for anyone. Beyond this validation though, this program taught me what really matters about art -- community. Living in a town where the cool thing was sports, where it was okay to be smart, but sometimes not quite as okay to be an artist or a theater kid, it felt like a gift to be with other preteens going through their awkward phase who were also into making things, telling stories, creating. There was no judgment from one another -- okay there was some... But for the most part we had fun, we threw pottery and made dirty jokes. We painted on large canvases and ate bagels. It was the perfect environment for a middle-school artist. Things happened in this space that meant something to the thirteen-year-old me. I made one of my closest friends, I got to (proudly) turn down a boy who 'asked me out', I listened to cool bands on other kids' mp3 players (pre-iPod), I felt like there was a little place for me in this weird conglomerate of students.
That was what I wanted. That was what I always felt, from that point on, what I deserved as a creative person -- other creative people. My arts education from an early age taught me that that was possible. When I started talking (not singing, talking) to myself in the shower, reciting made up exchanges of dialogue between two fictional people in my imagination, I suspected all hope was lost. When I started writing these weird things down, I was sure all hope was lost. I would be a writer. It took me a while to get to the point where I pursued it, but in a way I always knew. I didn't mind writing essays, and when I would force myself to write in a journal I felt a sort of liberation. I went through my teenage years and into my early twenties always having a feeling about this, but never being quite certain. Now that I've committed, made up my mind, found myself extending my education to become a screenwriter, it all seems to clear. All I ever wanted was to feel like four-year-old me again. I wanted to be that baby fox, experience the excitement of storytelling. I wanted to recognize again what it felt like to have people surrounding me who don't judge on who my friends are or what sport I play, but who want to read my writing, and in film school and in the larger scope of Los Angeles, I've found that. I want to tell stories. My chosen medium, for the time being, is through words and through imaginary people. But, having had the privilege to learn about and create all kinds of art as a kid, a teenager, and an adult, it's clear that storytelling is universal, each us just needs to find our medium.