Tuesday Feb. 23, 2010, My Turn • The death of the arts in an art filled community

Publisher’s note: This story is reprinted from the Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2010 edition of the Lassen County Times.

I make no claims of talent. I am not a gifted singer, I don’t know how to play a single instrument (not even the spoons) and I can’t paint my way out of a room.

However, many of us have to acknowledge the fact that we wouldn’t be who we are today without the influence of artistic expression in our culture.  It may have started out as a simple fingerpainting class when we were in kindergarten or forced lessons in front of a stereotypically strict piano teacher after school.

The point is that without the influence of such mediums as music, poetry, painting and writing, none of us would be what we are today, and it seems like more and more music and arts programs are getting put up on the chopping block, and I think as a society we need to start taking notice and doing something about it before our country’s culture starts to suffer for it.

I know it reads like I’m mad. Well, I am mad. I’m mad that having a God-given talent like playing the cello or the xylophone or the trumpet are being put on the back burner in favor of the ability to fill in a Scantron sheet or hit other kids with a dodgeball. In my opinion, a lack of arts in our schools is only going to lead to one thing: A dumber society.

I’m not trying to trivialize the matter out of context either. I know that it costs money to keep programs like this, and the ultimate trick is balancing what stays and what goes on a slimmed down budget, especially in such tough economic times.

But that’s where my opinion takes a sharp upswing. As a product of California education, I know for a fact there are holes in our school system, but it’s not terrible. If it were up to me, I would focus as much of the state and federal budget as I could on education more than anything else; not healthcare, not the job market, not even the nation’s security should be higher funded than education. Not because I want to make our educators and school administrators wealthier, but because I seriously think that we as a community, county, state, country and people could solve so much more of our life’s problems if just focused on making our youth smarter.

Imagine for one moment this picture of Utopia: A youth in a financially strapped inner-city school in one of the most hardcore neighborhoods in Los Angeles is given every single opportunity possible to succeed. This youth, who under our current system only excelled at cutting class and getting away with it, instead grows up smart and strong and able to critically-think his way out of a myriad of problems. He invents or creates an item or solution to some of our most difficult problems, whether it’s a piece of music that unites people and promotes cultural diversity or the potential cure for cancer.

If we focused on raising a nation of potential super geniuses, it would be up to them to solve the problems that have plagued us for generations. It’s no secret the youth of tomorrow will inherit our problems no matter what, but if we did everything we could as culture to make our youth as smart as possible, I think the rest of the world’s problems would start to fall into place.

Supplanting the arts in favor of other programs in our small little community may not seem like a big deal in such a big world. But looking at anything in the light of a big enough picture can make any problem seem small. Since I doubt people are going to take to the streets and start preaching my idea of education, The only thing I can really ask the people who read this article is to try and picture what you’d like our community, and by extension the entire planet, to be like in the years after you are dead and gone. Do you hear music in it?

Again, I’m not a concert virtuoso like our magnanimous symphony conductor Ben Wade, and I can’t paint a picture that would end up on display at the Lassen County Arts Council building. But I have done a little work with the Susanville Repertoire Company, braved the hot lights on stage in a small standup routine for the Ed Susanville Show and written an article or two for this newspaper that I can say I’m proud of.

Whether you care about any of my lame exploits or not, it’s because of support from friends, family and your tremendous arts community that I was even able to get this far. So do what you can to support the community of starving artists out there, whatever they’re skill. At the rate we’re going, they may be some of the last creative thinkers you’ll ever meet.