Save The ARTist (Creativity Plus)

There is a great deal of concern and hand wringing over saving the arts. Recently, the Westchester County Arts Council sent out a plea for us to write to our congressmen about major cuts to the arts. I did is they asked, knowing that in even the smallest way our voices have to be heard.

I got an answer back not from the congressmen but from his assistant. there was a lot of blame and finger-pointing in this letter, it still talking how great Westchester County is in comparison to other locations. I will copy and post her letter, but before I do: I have something to say. Yes, big surprise.

With all the talk about saving the parts one very important component seems to be forgotten:


I am a performing and teaching ARTIST. I make my primary living from working in the Arts. My discipline is Theater/Drama, Storytelling and Creative Writing. I do not create “lasting” art in Fine Arts, but I DO perform a service in the Performing Arts.

When you cut the funding for the arts, you are not just cutting out a sculpture or a painting, or a dance or theater piece, or a choral work, you are taking money out of reach of PEOPLE who are trying to pay their bills and survive. by making these budget cuts to save organizations, you are also then putting more people on unemployment. This fall, I have been unable to find a job, mainly because in my field there’s much less work. There are also more people out looking for any work, so even jobs that I could fit into are inundated by other people looking for work.

Where would we be without ones like Van Gogh?

Is it just me, or does this just not make any sense? A good friend of mine has put it  very simply: at this point in time, if everyone across the board and that means the big boys in the middle management boys played fairly, more people to keep their jobs. It’s part of what I’ve been saying in that we need creative solutions and problem solving in place of the reactionaries.

I do not want to be on unemployment. I want to work. I feel there are ways that more people can work and keep their jobs. Today on the news from NPR I heard that more than 28,000 postal workers will be laid off soon. What jobs will they be able to get to support their families?

It’s very easy to cast blame and point fingers. As a country, we seem to excel at that.

Wouldn’t we be better off if we were creative problem solvers?

As stated above, here is the letter I got today:

Thank you for writing to County Executive Robert P. Astorino regarding funding for the arts.

Please be assured that Mr. Astorino has read your message and he has asked me to respond to you on his behalf.

The county executive understands and appreciates your concern for the arts.  While developing the proposed 2012 county budget, Mr. Astorino and his administration have given the arts the same consideration accorded to every program, service, agency and facility supported by county government.

As you know all too well, this is a very challenging economy.  There is a critical need to balance a $114 million county budget deficit with a responsibility to provide essential services and property tax relief, protect Westchester’s neediest residents, promote structural financial reform and reduce government spending at all levels.  One of the major roadblocks to maintaining the funding level for Arts Westchester and many other worthwhile programs and services, is the failure of the public employee unions to agree to make a reasonable contribution to their healthcare premiums.  Westchester County’s union employees are one of the few groups left in the nation that contribute nothing to their healthcare costs.  This ever-increasing financial burden necessitates reductions in other portions of the county budget.  The county executive, since taking office two years ago, has attempted to get county workers to agree to the same level of healthcare contributions state workers make.  While there is a reduction in the allocation to arts programs, the County Executive’s proposed budget includes funding for the arts at $750,000.  This action is in no way a reflection on the outstanding quality of exhibits and performances presented by the arts community nor the talents and efforts of all who labor to bring these offerings to fruition.  It is instead, a part of many across-the-board measures which must be taken during these difficult times.

Your views and those of all who live and work in Westchester are very important to the county executive.  Your input is both welcome and valued.

Again, thank you for writing.


Janet Lokay
Assistant to the County Executive
148 Martine Avenue
White Plains, New York 10601
(914) 995-2127

Here was my response to Ms. Lokay:

it’s not just the exhibits and performances.

You forget a very essential part: the artist has to live, pay bills, and be part of the economic structure. By cutting the arts, it’s not just the end product but the people who live through the process. Two very different things.

I am a Teaching Artist and a performing artist. My entire life is creative and my livelihood depends on schools, libraries, community centers and more have funds to hire me and others like me. I live for the educational process that is part of the learning process…and it does not seem politicians realize this.

Schools may not hire a full time Theater Teacher anymore (I have my NYS Certification in Theater), but they SHOULD hire me as a consultant, which is what a TA (teaching artist) really is. I integrate my work into the school core curricula, and it enhances, not wastes, the teachers’ lessons.

I would love to have a conversation  about this. Yes, many of us produce art that is seen; there are many more of us who produce art that is part of the educational process, for ALL ages, and we’re hurting, trying to make a living.

My thing: instead of telling me why something isn’t working, why are we not doing problem solving around the negatives out there. I’d rather know what has been attempted, or will be, instead of what is not working. I  work a lot with my students, when I get them, on problem solving.

I’m serious about talking with Mr. Astorino.

She gave me her phone number. If I don’t hear from them, and if you know me at all, they will hear from me. I will let you know what happens next. I’m tired of the excuses. Let’s get off of  unemployment

Fear in Education: Anonymous Q & A

So…you open your mouth, not even so much in condemnation, but with inquiry, with suggestions, possible solutions…

Oh, wait… that type of person, educator or not, is often frowned upon. Branded a trouble maker, not having Team Spirit, not following the herd, well, you better run, duck and cover… it’s a bumpy road ahead of you. That is, if they don’t fine a way to get rid of you, somehow.

Keep to the status quo, stay silent, vote the way we want you to vote, don’t upset the apple cart, and please: We’ve always done it this way! What are you? A radical?

Whenever death may surprise us, let it be welcome if our battle cry has reached even one receptive ear and another hand reaches out to take up our arms.
Che Guevara

I sent out an interview/questionnaire to a number of people who have voiced concerns about the state of education today. Some, I never heard from. A few tell me that what I’ve asked is too much (12 questions) for them to devote any time to (that one I don’t get). Others are in the process of writing, with research and more. A few have asked to remain anonymous.

Before you cry “chicken” or “Stand and Deliver!” or whatever, understand: there is a lot of petty revenge that goes on in school administration and with policy makers. They can be vindictive, and jobs can be threatened (and right now, with our tanking economy, I understand the need to protect yourself but still want your voice heard. I have shot myself in the foot a number of times over the years, but I don’t suffer fools gladly.

Q&A #1

1.       Why do you care about the educational system of today?
I am a teacher – I care about kids and the future.

2.       What is your background (short bio)?

I was an unhappy student, and initially a reluctant teacher.  I am now quite inspired and fulfilled with much of that job.  I teach a variety of theatre arts classes in an urban magnet school grades 6 – 12.

3.       What do you feel is an overriding problem(s) educators are facing today?

Apathy, cell phones, internet.  Kids will do almost anything for a grade but don’t value their own learning.

4.       How do you feel this problem (these problems) can be solved?

I don’t know.

5.       What changes/paradigm shifts do you feel are necessary?
Experiental learning over testing – a given.  But that’s easy…
6.       What is your view on Process vs. Product?
Yes, I work hard to create a great product but I would toss that away for a rewarding process any day…it’s all about the journey.
7.       Do you believe Arts-In-Education are important? Yes or No, can you please explain why you feel that way?

Yes!!  You can learn almost any core subject from a book, the internet or TV.  The arts help you to learn about yourself as a creative being, as an individual with a voice, as a member of society.

8.       If you believe we should replace the Standardized Testing process, what form of assessment do you feel the students would benefit more from and the policy makers would be “happiest” with? If you agree with Standardized Testing, could you please explain why?

I do believe that Standardized Testing should go.  Not sure on an alternate form of assessment.

9.       What role do you feel parents/guardians should have with the schools?

A school should be a community with parents being a essential voice within that community.

Q & A #2

1. Why do you care about the educational system of today? As an overall human, it is the means by which we are creating our next generation. I have gotten into discussions with others about the funding of education and I maintain that while my wife and I will never be able to have children, we will benefit from a good educational system. I’d rather live in a society that is better educated than mine. As an educator….well, if I don’t care about the educational system then I am living a lie. I am an educator because I was put on this earth to be one and help others.


2. What is your background (short bio)? Arts for many years. History Teacher through a non-traditional licensing program.


3. What do you feel is an overriding problem(s) educators are facing today? Bloated and misunderstanding/selfish management struggling with “higher expectations” and smaller funding. The “education crisis” of today cries of the same worries about our educational system in the 50’s after Sputnik and the 80’s when “competing with Japan.” The newest wrinkles include economic recession(s), a chip on some shoulders that an earlier generation was wronged when in school and a lack of understanding from prior generations that the world/business model has changed. The old methods cannot work anymore because the job market has changed so drastically. It isn’t an academic link but this video made quite an impression on me a couple of years ago and it is still powerful (I’m going to have to send the link separately – it won’t let me without erasing everything else).


4. How do you feel this problem (these problems) can be solved? Stop trying to fix things with a broad, simple brushstroke. Swallow some pride and look in and outside of America to see what works. These are problems that need to be worked on by EVERYONE (politicians – though most major decisions need to be made on a very local basis as needs change from place to place, administrators, teachers, all of the adult family unit). The family unit is so important in the early cognitive development. We cannot regulate what goes on in the family, but educators need to reach out to the families in a more proactive way. I have seen too many times when families and educators view each other as the enemy. There are school systems that work well with the communities and those are usually the ones that show higher scores in testing.


5. What changes/paradigm shifts do you feel are necessary? In addition to the above there are too many teachers that simply give reading assignments, handouts with fill in the blank from those reading assignments, power point lecture with the answers to those fill in the blanks and give a (most of the time multiple guess) test over those hand outs. Educators cannot go about things with the same approach at all times. Besides, our students need to learn to reason, life is not multiple guess.


6. What is your view on Process vs. Product? Both need to be assessed at all times. The results of the process should be seen in the product and the results of the product should assess the process.


7. Do you believe Arts-In-Education are important? Yes or No, can you please explain why you feel that way? Yes. This is another area where “groups” should be working more closely. One can find most if not all of the “academic” classes in every medium of the arts. Both “arts” and “academic” educators need to find these connections and find a way to work together. Repetition is very important in education and being able to find where these intersections take place will only be beneficial to the students. Besides, it will help when overlapping learning styles.


8. If you believe we should replace the Standardized Testing process, what form of assessment do you feel the students would benefit more from and the policy makers would be “happiest” with? If you agree with Standardized Testing, could you please explain why? I believe there is a place for standardized testing, but too much emphasis is placed on it. There are many types of non-traditional assessments as well that can measure what our students are learning. I understand that agreeing what types should be included and cost can become an issue, but we must have multiple methods of assessing learning.

9. What role do you feel parents/guardians should have with the schools? Educators and administrators are partners of parents/guardians when it comes to the education of the children. We are all a part of a community and all should be treated as such.


10. You can create the ideal school: what THREE things must be in place that are non-negotiable? Strong Leadership with great communication; Firm, yet flexible (when appropriate) discipline; and respect for knowledge/learning.


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