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

Educational Language (un)Merry-Go-Round

Education Jargon At Play

Hiding Behind Education Jargon

Glossary of Educational Terms

I think we invent jargon because it saves times talking to one-another.
John M. Smith

Incomprehensible jargon is the hallmark of a profession.
Kingman Brewster, Jr.

jar·gon   Noun/ˈjärgən/

1. Special words or expressions that are used by a particular profession or group and are difficult for others to understand.

There is a disconnect between those involved in Education, and part of it is language. I am not talking about English vs. any other spoken cultural language. Jargon and interpretations of what is meant causes further barriers in reaching many accords. You join “the club,” you get the secret handshake and the coded language. If you are not part of that club…you may always be on the outside wondering “what are they talking about?”

Every profession has its own terminology. Nothing new there. I hear my IT friends and son talk, and my eyes glaze over. The comic strip Dilbert is an expression of that: I don’t work in an office. So many of the “jokes” just go over my head as not funny, whereas to someone in that position finds it can be hysterical.

The disconnect I am talking about within the education field is vast. Parents, Administration, Policy Makers, Educators, Teaching Artists and the kids all approach the same field with different languages. What one group says and thinks is an honest representation of their process is often misunderstood by another group., you take the time to learn the jargon, the pathways to understanding. Oooops…time for a new paradigm shift.

“Ours is the age of substitutes: instead of language, we have jargon: instead of principles, slogans: and, instead of genuine ideas, bright ideas”

 Eric Bentley

Working for the NYC Dept of Education, I had the opportunity to train with an arts organization. Well known and respected, it was, for me, a true pleasure to attend this intensive Professional Development program. Arts integration orientated, it espoused inquiry, deep observation,  creative thinking skills, and a very open mindset to allowing answers to form out of personal reflections. The Teaching Artist (TA) who ran the first part of the orientation was brilliant in all ways except one: she was unable to connect with the non-arts minded teachers who felt that at the end of every process there had to be ONE correct answer. The test mentality people. She was not able, for whatever reason, to bridge the gap needed to bring resistant teachers over. And there were a number of very resistant teachers to that way of thinking.

Why was I so open to it? At that point in the game, I had worn many hats in Arts-in-Education (AIE): I have been a Teaching Artist since 1996; I had years at that point of being a certified NYC teacher; I was a parent; I had worked in Arts Administration, both as the owner of my own theater company and in working with the NYC Dept of Ed (NYCDOE)’s office of Arts & Special Projects. I saw, first hand, that what was a stumbling block for the TA and the teachers was not just the concept but the language being used. This arts organization had its own jargon as well as incorporating a majority of the NYCDOE speak.

The teachers were not getting it. The ones who had the most problems came from outside the NYC school system: Westchester County, Long Island and New Jersey.  So, educational language barriers of geography on top of all the rest of it. The rest of it: pure stubbornness (yes, that is my opinion after my interaction with a lot of them).

The above, of course, is an example outside of the school building. I have seen similar circumstances played out in schools between all the “players” in the building.  It is not easy when you work in a Tower of Babel, all trying to understand, or not, as the case may be: obstructionists are a plenty in the land.
What am I suggesting? I feel that there is a need to settle on one nation wide language/jargon for the Educational System. Maybe globally, but that is the naivety/John Lennon-“Imagine” part of me speaking. Anyone who enters the school environment should be informed, trained and expected to follow the same usage of the environmental language. There would be less butting of heads if people just started on a level playing ground.
Can this happen?

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