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Arts Alive Is More Than Just One Night of Stardom by Jorea M. Marple, Ed.D.

April 16, 2012

Jennifer Garner’s extraordinary talent is to be credited for earning her one of the nation’s most prestigious arts awards, the Golden Globe.  The same can be said for multiple award-winning musician Brad Paisley. Yet both of these million-dollar megastars had a little help nurturing that talent -- exposure to the arts at a young age while growing up in West Virginia.

Years of research show that an education that includes the arts is closely linked to almost everything that we as a state and nation say we want for our children and demand from our schools: academic achievement, social and emotional development, civic engagement, and equitable opportunity.

That’s why events like the West Virginia Department of Education’s Arts Alive, an annual showcase of talented student dancers, actors, musicians and artists, are so vital for our state.

Arts learning can improve motivation, concentration, confidence, and teamwork. A report by the Rand Corporation about the visual arts argues that the intrinsic pleasures and stimulation of the art experience do more than sweeten an individual's life; they connect people more deeply to the world and open them to new ways of seeing.

Now more than ever, the complexities of our global economy demand that learners of all ages be well-educated, well-rounded creative problem-solvers. Well-taught arts courses are where those skills required and refined whether children yearn to become an actress like Jennifer Garner or a musician like Brad Paisley.

Every child, regardless of economic status, deserves the opportunities to develop those skills as part of a broad curriculum that includes the arts instead of a limited basic curriculum that fails to nurture the whole child. We want our children to want to come to school to discover what they are good at, not be discouraged because the limited curriculum only tells them what they can’t do well.

There is a reason Finland has only a 2 percent high school dropout rate. Finland has created a school system that values a wide curriculum and a system that makes schools places where students want to be, places where the arts are a part of each student’s day and at each programmatic level.

It’s not just our children who benefit from the arts; our communities do to. Some economists estimate the creative sector accounts for nearly half of all wage and salary income in the United States, $1.7 trillion, as much as the manufacturing and service sectors combined.

As we work together in this complex world to develop good kids who do great work, we must make sure the arts are valued and supported. You can exercise your support on April 20 by attending the Sixth Annual Arts Alive celebration at the Clay Center for the Arts & Sciences in Charleston. Our schools are full of talented students who will showcase the benefits of their arts education. The lobby showcase begins at 6:30 p.m., followed by the mainstage performance at 7 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. Tickets are available from the Clay Center at (304) 561-3500.

The signature event will feature performances and the visual arts as well as theater, dance, instrumental and vocal music performed by public school students from across West Virginia.

This year we challenged students in new ways through the Science in the Arts program, which asked students to consider, research and present information about relationships between two seemingly different subjects. Entries included artwork created with science as well as video presentations. We also for the first time asked students of dance, theater and music to submit original scripts, choreography, compositions and improvisations. I am proud to say West Virginia students have exceeded our expectations.

In signing the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act in 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson said, “Art is a nation’s most precious heritage; for it is in our works of art that we reveal to ourselves and to others the inner vision which guides us as a nation. And where there is no vision, the people perish.”

I hope you will share in the vision the arts provide by joining me and others in support of West Virginia’s student artists and attend Arts Alive on April 20.

Marple is state superintendent of schools, overseeing West Virginia's public schools.

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