I’ve been looking all over the internet for a poster that used to hang in my junior high library. It was a picture of Sting, from The Police, holding a book and looking as utterly delicious as he was before he got all tantricly retarded. Back when he could sing higher than I could, when the shifting shadows on his face in the “Every Breath You Take” video were enough to send my 11-year-old heart into a tailspin. Sting was dreamy, a musician and an intellectual, and I remember looking up his lyrics in the dictionary and still having no idea what they meant (“they subjugate the meek, but it’s the rhetoric of failure”).
Michelle here, by the way.
Anyway, I can’t find the poster. But I’ve been thinking about it all day. Even back when I was a ridiculous pre-teen wanna-be socialite, more concerned with my fluorescent socks matching my top than I was about any world affairs, I still spent plenty of time in the library. I hold a deep affection for libraries still, and sometimes I wish I were an academic just so I had good reason to sit on a high-backed chair for hours, surrounded by my “research”, glasses perched on my head, fellow academics on all sides, accompanied by hushed voices and the smell of old books. Alas, instead, I’m a carny.
I’ve been thinking about that poster, and about my love of books, and how tied my love of books is to my love of music and all the arts. I find the same solace in practice rooms and on stage as I do in the library. I love reading a good book almost as much as I love kicking ass singing a Cole Porter song. I’m a good reader, and a good singer, and I don’t know how much of that is in my DNA and how much was cultivated, but I’m awfully glad I had the chance to explore both books and music when I was growing up.
I now make my living solely through the arts. I’m the director of an arts non-profit, and I’m singing and writing with some degree of regularity for extra cash on the side. And like so many things in my life, I’m astounded every day by how little I know about art, and I’m doubly astounded by how pathetic support for the arts is in this country. I’m going to use my little home as an example. My community has three theatre companies- only three. One is an Equity company, another is dedicated to Shakespeare, and the third is a community theatre. All three of them are folding this year. Not due to lack of talent, lack of drive, or lack of resources in this valley, but quite simply because none of them can afford to rent space to perform. The local venues have all jacked up their prices in order to attempt to get in the black, and there is no community center, no subsidized performing space for the companies to use.
Why should you care? Because this is happening all over the country. And the thing is, these companies also have educational outreach programs to bring arts education into the schools, where arts got the axe many years ago. Without these companies, there are fewer arts instructors, which means kids don’t get exposure to the arts. I’m not going to get preachy, I’m just going to lay out some proven stats: when children are exposed to arts education, they learn teamwork, they develop a sense of individuality, they gain confidence, and- guess what- they do much better in their core disciplines. So when a kid puts a paintbrush to paper, or sings a song, somehow, that translates into better arithmetic scores, better understanding of Language Arts, better SAT scores and a fuller and more prosperous life!
Okay, so maybe I don’t know about that last part. But here in northern California, one of the wealthiest spots in the known world, school closings are on the news literally every other week. Schools are closing because they don’t have enough money to stay open. When they try to save themselves, first they cut art, then the cut the library- the LIBRARY- and then they move on to cutting bus services, and on from there.
Umm, what good is a school with no library? Why is California in such a terrible way? And what the hell would I have done with my life if, as a kid, I had no books and no music? Every artist I know remembers the first time they were on stage, or the first time they put pen or brush to paper and were satisfied with the result. It’s when we were kids. And we do this because we are simply unable to do anything else. I have to wonder how many kids, who are meant to be artists, are going to grow up and live their whole lives with the sinking feeling that they never found their calling because no one ever put a paint brush in their hand, or gave them a song to sing or play.