I rarely write about specific activities at the Kennedy Center in my weekly column; I do not believe this is an appropriate vehicle for marketing our work. But occasionally I do experience a production, program or activity at the Center that is special and is appropriate subject matter for a column on arts management.
Recently, the Center hosted its annual four day conference of its Partners in Education program participants, one of two dozen programs managed so capably by my Vice President of Education, Darrell Ayers. The Partners program, some 23 years old, helps an arts center work collaboratively with its local school system to create important arts education programs. There are currently 94 cities across the nation that participate in this program.
For all but one of my 13 years as president of the Kennedy Center, I have participated in this special week; typically I was interviewed by Barbara Shepherd the fabulous woman who runs the program. This year the week was special because it was my last at the Center and because we had a major snowstorm in the middle of the week.
One would never have known that it was even snowing by watching the 230 participants who flew in from all over the country for this convening. Their focus was simply on arts education: how to create the best programs with severely limited resources.
These are people who are fighting on the front lines of arts education: teachers, administrators, arts managers who are united in the belief that a solid arts education is a crucial component of a comprehensive curriculum.
While the participants come from communities with differing resources, demographics and commitments to the arts, and while so many have experienced the reduction in public arts education funding that is epidemic in this nation, they are the most united, positive, non-cynical group I have met.
Their positive energy comes from a clear, firm belief structure that sustains them through the difficult times.
They know that when the arts are part of the curriculum, test scores in reading and math improve.
They know that when children are able to think and work creatively, they become far more employable, at higher levels, in our creative economy.
They know that the arts teach vital life skills to children.
They know the arts provide a safe way for children to express themselves.
They know that the arts can keep many children in school who might otherwise drop out.
They know that dance education teaches respect of body -- a key issue for teens and pre-teens who we hope to keep from teen pregnancy, drug abuse and AIDS.
They know that if STEM became STEAM, the children, the economy and our nation would benefit.
And, when they meet together annually, they refresh their enthusiasm by providing examples and anecdotes to each other that reaffirm their basic beliefs about arts education.
It is not coincidental that I have returned to this conference year after year.
My own batteries get recharged every time I meet and talk with this remarkable group of educators.
I will miss them in the years ahead.