Arts Alive Soothes the Soul and Celebrates the Arts
by Jim Phares, Ed.D.

April 24, 2013

From Boston to Texas and in small and large towns around the globe, the last few days have left many unanswered questions. As we struggle to come to terms with these recent horrific events and search for a balm to heal our hearts think about these words of President Barrack Obama, who said, "In times of war and sacrifice, the arts ... remind us to sing and to laugh and to live."

Our wounds as a nation are fresh. Still, life continues, and so do the arts. On Friday, West Virginia will celebrate the achievements of student artists from across the state as the West Virginia Department of Education and the West Virginia Department of Education & the Arts hosts the seventh annual arts showcase – Arts Alive at the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences in Charleston beginning at 6:30 p.m. The free event features students in dance, theatre, visual arts and music.

From the Jefferson High School Thespian Troupe and the Shepherdstown Middle School Jazz Band in the Eastern Panhandle, to the Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary Drum Ensemble in Charleston and the Cabell Midland High School Trumpet Choir in Ona, all genres will be represented. Performances also will include members of The West Virginia All-State Chorus.

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 public schools: academic achievement, social and emotional development, civic engagement, and equitable opportunity. A 2012 study of students in West Virginia found that those with an arts-rich high school experience scored higher in mathematics and reading/ language arts. This finding generally held true even for students of lower socioeconomic status or with disabilities.

Many arts advocates justify the importance of their subjects because they have the potential to increase student achievement in mathematics and language arts. But the arts do much more. The arts are where some students find they fit in. When students find a place where they can freely express themselves, schools become places where they want to be. 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. That's why events like Arts Alive are so vital for our state. While Arts Alive is not an end in itself, it is a celebration of what happens in the classroom every single day, and a celebration of the humanity in all of us.

You can exercise your support of the arts and our talented children on Friday by joining me and others at Arts Alive.

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

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