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Art public service announcements

07/22/02 12:00AM By Libby Sternberg
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(Host) Commentator Libby Sternberg reflects on an ad campaign advocating for more public support of arts in the schools, that she doesn't think is very effective.

(Sternberg) Have you seen those public service ads with the tag line: "The less arts kids get, the more it shows"? Sponsored by Americans for the Arts, a nonprofit organization advancing the arts in America, the ads all contain the same images - a kid who looks like he or she stepped out of an Addams Family cartoon taking life a little too seriously. One ad ends with a girl asking her father to read her a bedtime story. When he agrees, she pulls down a copy of a zoning regulations book and snuggles next to him. Clearly, this is what happens when kids don't get enough arts, the ads seem to say: your kid turns into a nerd.

Leaving aside the offensive message the ad sends to folks who wouldn't mind if kids learned a little more about civics, is this the best way to sell people on the idea that arts are important? Can you imagine a similar campaign about the importance of including sports activities in schools? A youngster interrupts his Dad who is watching a ball game on TV and asks him to read to him. When his father reluctantly agrees, the kid pulls down a volume of, say, poetry. Tag line: "The less sports kids get, the more it shows. Are yours getting enough? Sports. Ask for more." There'd be an uproar at that kind of message.

Even though I believe that schools' first priorities should be to make sure kids get the basics, arts ARE important. Good arts programs, just like good sports programs, make kids feel they are part of something bigger than themselves. Our local schools have offered a variety of rich opportunities to see and hear nascent orchestral players, blossoming jazz enthusiasts, enthusiastic band members all strut their stuff. The kids themselves might be popular, unpopular, struggling in math, shining in English, just broke up with their girlfriend, or mad at their best buddy, but when they step onto that stage they leave their conflicted selves behind and become something bigger than the sum of their everyday challenges. The past is gone, only that moment in the spotlight exists.

Teachers who lead kids into that spotlight, and do it well, deserve everyone's thanks. So pardon me a moment, while I dole out my own specific gratitude - to Mr. Giles and Mr. Whitman, to Mr. Miller, Mr. Graves and Mrs. Hart - all of whom work with the young musicians in my community and give them the information as well as the opportunities to be something bigger than themselves. I'd much prefer to see an ad campaign celebrating these teachers' success stories instead of one that pits the arts against other subjects.

This is Libby Sternberg from Rutland.

Libby Sternberg is a free-lance writer, former chair of the Rutland County Republican Party, and is active in education issues.
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