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

Arts and the Core Curriculum

Your Ideal School: Conceptualize It!

Yesterday’s posting (link above) began my discussion on what I feel needs to be done to help our students and our struggling school structure. Not everything is broken, and there are many amazing teachers, school admin and school communities. On the flip side,  there are a lot of things that need shoring up, some complete reforms and overhauls, and more investment in monies and support around the country, on all levels.  ALL levels.

There are a variety of reasons that people don’t think arts have any importance in schools. Many do not see it as something to assess (especially drama, which does not always produce a tactile resource for displays, outside of photos or video). There is a gross misconception that the arts have little to no crossover applications to core curricula. The goal of arts in schools is not wasting time, or, as one “teacher” once said to me: “What are you going on about?(Theater)..You are nothing but a prep period to us!”.  That individual’s statement is how I feel many see the arts: it’s wasting time, nothing of any real value.

Of course, I disagree. I never look at what I teach about working only to make the next Broadway or Movie STAR. In all honesty, that has to come totally from the kid. They have to want it, need it, breath it, live it. What I DO see in the importance of teaching the arts reaches into not only the core curriculum but also many life lessons.

Literacy, a major focus in schools, is deeply inherent in Drama, as well as studies in the other art disciplines. Math gets support in Dance  and Music (counting beats; ability to modify and work within a structure) and Fine Arts (measures, construction, dimensions, perspective). History is approached in all the arts, not only of the art form but also of how it fits into the Socio/Economic/Political structure of  the time period. I’ve only listed a few things that the arts already incorporate into the school community. I’m hoping more Arts people will chime in and add more in the comments.

Beyond that, the arts help in these life skills:   presentation ability; research; critical thinking;  problem solving; creative thought and creative voice expression; ensemble/team building; communication  (listening and speaking);  writing/notation; observation skills; focusing and following directions; inquiry; increasing vocabulary; making connections with studies and community; self confidence; and  more.  Are these skills things you can use in your life, work as well as personal? Of course. Can you find these things in the main school structure? Yes, but in the arts, these things are an extremely important component that is done daily, not when it fits into the curriculum map to teach it.

The Brian Lehrer Show August 29, 2007

The above link is to a half hour audio portion of a radio show I happened to catch as it aired. I think it’s important to the subject above. He is speaking to Sharon Dunn, who at that time was the Executive Director of the NYC Department of Education’s Office of Arts and Special Projects, as well to those who called in. If you have a half hour, I do suggest you listen.

Beyond that, if you want to read some more on the subject:

Arts Integrated Curriculum

Learning Through the Arts

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills


I will be posting more links in the week ahead, and I WILL look for opposing viewpoints. You do need to make up your own mind on subjects like these, and it’s best if you have a balanced opinion. If I did not believe that I would not make the statement.

What are YOUR thoughts on Arts working with the Core Subjects? What other learning points do you feel the Arts have to offer? Do you feel differently? Why?

This is not for an argument or name calling, but to create dialogue and thought. Please be respectful to any and all comments.


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