Atlee then turned to the artists and arts advocates in the room. “As you listened to what our students, parents, and school administrators articulated as priorities,” she asked, “how can the arts contribute to their success both inside and out of school?”
Wilson Pettit, an artist in the community, offered a suggestion. “We could certainly help the schools create opportunities—through the visual arts, music, theater, creative writing, and dance, combined with digital technology—for parents and other community residents from different cultures to express their own experiences, while developing a deeper understanding of others. And the schools in turn could contribute their facilities as places for local artists and collaborators to display their works and to perform music, dance, and theatre—places that would be accessible to all our neighbors. In addition, my fellow artists and I have design expertise and analytic abilities that could assist community improvement projects and business and technology development, and that might help support our respective crafts. I am happy to work with our teachers and others in the community, but I am primarily an artist, and I need to be able to create and share my creatively more broadly. If artists cannot make a living from our art, then we cannot make any of these other contributions to our community.”
Drama teacher Armstrong Fitzsimmons added, “Reframing the challenge around personalizing creative learning opportunities for all students and community members places the responsibility on all of us to think and act differently about the arts in order to make a collective contribution to lifelong learning.”
The meeting was about to end. But before it did, Atlee wanted to make sure that another person had a chance to weigh in. She turned to Rush Gardner, veteran state legislator, who had been observing the discussion. “Representative Gardner, before we call it an evening,” she inquired, “do you have any words of advice?”
Ever the politician, Gardner thanked the group for the chance to participate. “This has been a candid and rich discussion,” he commented. “You know that I’m in your corner, but many of my colleagues are not yet, and we have a whole lot of important issues competing for our attention and for the state’s limited resources. Many view the arts as non-essential, especially during such tight fiscal times. The onus is on you to convince them otherwise. The good news is that all of us have schools and arts organizations in our districts. You folks need to come together in spite of your differences and characterize the issues around which you can rally. You really have to communicate regularly with your elected representatives—not just during pressing budgetary times—and enlist them as dedicated advocates of the arts and learner-centered arts education.”
And with that, the meeting ended, but not before the participants had volunteered to conduct research over the summer on how other communities and states were addressing comparable challenges, committing to reconvene several months later.