!nsp!re – ARTS EDUCATION WEEK: Personally Speaking

In celebration of California Arts Education Week (Sep 8-14), this week’s posts will all focus on arts education.

I absolutely believe that we must raise the next generation to be educated, thoughtful, and well-rounded. That belief is firmly rooted in what the arts did for me personally.

The only classes I responded to in elementary school were art and English (creative writing). None of the other classes resonated. I was a shy, zit-faced little dude who just wanted to be left alone in my room (painted black, natch) with my stereo, my sketchpad, and a few books. Oddly enough, I was a fine student and actually made mostly good grades; I just wasn’t interested in anything apart from creative work. As I got into high school, I stayed in art class; and through friends, was introduced to theater. Theater opened up my perspective and bonded my love of art to something very tangible – theatrical design.

But even then, I never really considered it a career option. While many of my friends were thinking about “real” careers and jobs, I was somewhat lost. All I wanted to do was create – to make something beautiful from nothing.

All through that early part of my life, the arts kept my mind and hands busy (which kept me, mostly, out of trouble). They transformed my social awkwardness by encouraging me to socially engage with others. They taught me that while one can create alone; it’s WAY more fun to create with other people. They provided me with a direction that I decided to pursue as a career – and then gave me the tools to do it. The arts have done all of those things and far more for many of my friends and so many of the students I speak with on a regular basis.

I don’t want to imagine what my life would have been like had I not been exposed, at an early age, to the things that would mold who I have become. I don’t need to read the growing mountain of arts education studies to understand the reasons why the arts are important. I know the reasons to be true because they informed and changed my life.

For more information California Arts In Education Week, click here to visit the California Arts Council.


!nsp!re – ARTS EDUCATION WEEK: Why Arts Education Is Crucial, and Who’s Doing It Best

In celebration of California Arts Education Week (Sep 8-14), this week’s posts will all focus on arts education.


This post, written by Fran Smith at Edutopia.com, offers a compelling case for growing arts in education in our nation’s classrooms. Some of the more salient points she makes are:

  • Due to the arts cutbacks in the ’70’s and ’80’s, we now have a whole generation of teachers and parents who were not exposed to the arts during their education, making it difficult for them to understand the value that the arts contribute to becoming a well-rounded individual.
  • Arts education enables children from a financially challenged background to have a more level playing field with children of means, who are often exposed to the arts outside of classrooms via their parents and family.
  • Years of research show that arts education is linked closely with almost everything that we as a nation say we want for our children and demand from our schools: academic achievement, social and emotional development, civic engagement, and equitable opportunity.

I’d agree with all of those and more. The post then goes into great detail about specific educators who are challenging the status quo of reduced arts education, and how they are bringing arts back into their schools.

Click here to read the full article.

For more information California Arts In Education Week, click here to visit the California Arts Council.

!nsp!re – ARTS EDUCATION WEEK: Why is Art Education Important?

In celebration of California Arts Education Week (Sep 8-14), this week’s posts will all focus on arts education.

This post, originally from kinderart.com, explores the reasons why art class, specifically,  can be an important contribution to well-rounded development. I found this interesting because it focuses on younger children. In addition to the information that’s been learned in a number of studies about “why” arts education is important, the writer (an educator, Andrea Mulder-Slater) offers specific activities that young students can do. Some suggestions are:

  • See if your students can make figures using torn paper. No scissors, no pencils, just paper. If you have more time, the torn paper can be glued on another sheet and painted with watercolors.
  • Have your students create picture stories. Everyone draws a series of images—use stick people and box-shaped houses. Once everyone has created a picture story, share the images to see if the other participants can decipher the “code.” See how many versions of the story develop.
  • Have your students imagine there is a hole in the wall. What is lurking behind the wall? Talk about it. Ask them to draw it.

While it may be tempting to dismiss some of these activities as play (because the do sound like fun!), the quality they share is that they engage the imagination.

For example, the first activity (having students make figures using torn paper) teaches them to think differently. They learn that art doesn’t have to be “drawing” or “painting”. It can be paper, clay, sticks, paper, steel, wood – anything! But beyond teaching students that you can create art from anything, it encourages non-traditional thinking; a skill which is highly coveted in many career fields. Tech, science, and the arts all need talented people with non-traditional, non-linear thinking skills. The more we can encourage participation in the arts at a young age, the better chance that these learnings will become ingrained into our young students, who will then go out into the world and change it – hopefully, for the better.

Click here to read the full article.

For more information California Arts In Education Week, click here to visit the California Arts Council.

!nsp!re – ARTS EDUCATION WEEK: Top 10 Skills Children Learn From The Arts

In celebration of California Arts Education Week (Sep 8-14), this week’s posts will all focus on arts education.

I found this post to be very interesting when I initially read it back in January. It’s worth revisiting this week. Lisa Phillips (author of “The Artist Edge: 7 Skills Children Need To Succeed In An Increasingly Right Brain World”) details her thoughts on ten skills that children learn in arts classes.

Let’s take a look at #8, Collaboration. A student can, of course, learn to collaborate in other areas, like team sports. But if you take a typical theater or music class and examine it, you’ll see that collaboration is woven into the very fabric of the art itself. I believe there’s a significant distinction between collaboration (in the arts) and teamwork (in sports). Both involve putting something larger (the show, the recital, the big game) before yourself, of course, but how you get there is very different.

Whereas team sports like football follow a prescribed set of rules and all teammates must work together to win a game, mounting a play requires a different sort of collaborative approach because the play is different every time. There are, simply, no actual rules. Common practices? Yes – but not rules. It takes a different skill-set to navigate a process in which no rules apply, versus playing a sport in which one is penalized for not following the rules.

A school band learns new music every year; they don’t play the same piece repeatedly, and each piece is open to interpretation. Again, no real rules.

And look no further than the dance world to see a total lack of rules.

I think this lack of rules is at the core of how the collaborative skill-set is learned differently in the arts than in other classes. Lisa Phillips says it quite well in her post, “When a child has a part to play in a music ensemble, or a theater or dance production, they begin to understand that their contribution is necessary for the success of the group. Through these experiences children gain confidence and start to learn that their contributions have value even if they don’t have the biggest role.”

Click here to read the full article.

For more information California Arts In Education Week, click here to visit the California Arts Council.

!nsp!re – ARTS EDUCATION WEEK: 3 Reasons A Theatre Degree Is Important

In celebration of California Arts Education Week (Sep 8-14), this week’s posts will all focus on arts education.

Today’s post, from Backstage.com on April 13, was written by Harvey Young, a professor of theater at Northwestern University. In the post, he shares his thoughts on three reasons a theater degree is important:

1) Theater is a business.

2) The business of theater is good preparation for other careers.

3) Social importance and salary do not always correlate.

Click here to read what he has to say.

For more information about California Arts Education Week, click here.

!nsp!re – Interactive Shadows Made With Words

notabenevisualinordertocontrol1An interactive typography installation, “In Order To Control”, opened recently. The mapping technology projects text onto the floor surface. When the text is interrupted by a human form, it transfers to the wall in front of them. Trippy, right?

This is a wonderful example of this technology used in a very creative context. Read more about it (with pics and video) here.

!nsp!re – Diana Nyad Completes Cuba-To-Florida Swim


Diana Nyad, at age 64, and after four previous aborted attempts, has achieved her lifelong ambition of swimming the Straits of Florida from Cuba to the Keys without the protection of a shark cage.

Having been born bereft of the sports gene, rarely do I see something from the sporting world that inspires me. Certainly, the accomplishments of many Olympic athletes are incredible; but those triumphs occur early in life for most athletes. Rarely, if ever, do you see a story like this. This woman’s story, from her early life as a swimmer, through her time as an author, public speaker, and NPR commentator is incredibly inspiring to me.

While many her age are content to metaphorically sit on the front porch and watch the world go by, she has redefined the perception of what a “senior citizen” can be. I love seeing someone who, in many people’s eyes “should be retired”, still driven to accomplish something great.

So when you’re staring at a blank canvas, or plucking the same note on your guitar string, or waiting for inspiration to strike as you sit in Starbucks staring at a blank document – remember Diana Nyad. When the work just isn’t coming, when the writer’s block won’t move – remember Diana Nyad. Think of the woman who endured choppy seas, rough winds, jellyfish stings, hypothermia, circling sharks, dehydration, and lightning storms to emerge victorious from the ocean after having conquered her greatest challenge.

If you break it down into parts, it makes a lot of sense.

1) Diana determined what she wanted to do. Have you done that recently? Taken a fresh look at your goals? Your aspirations?

2) She determined how she wanted to do it. Using all of your skill, expertise, knowledge, and senses is important in achieving your dreams. Just dreaming them doesn’t count…

3) She asked for help. Diana was assisted by weather people, shark experts, navigation guides; a small army of support. It’s important to realize when you need help and why you need help. Then ask for it.

4) She kept doing it. She failed this same goal four times. FOUR TIMES. How many of us give up after the first try? The second? That she refused to give up is, I believe, her single greatest achievement. We must all keep reaching, and building, and planning, and doing.

It’s astounding what we can do – each of us – when we allow our passion to fuel us.

You can read the CNN story on Dian’s voyage here.

Diana’s wikipedia page is here.

!nsp!re – What Is Beauty?

This is an NPR story from earlier this summer. If you click through, you’ll be treated to a wonderful talk by Nancy Etcoff on TED radio hour. Nancy is the instructor for “The Science of Happiness” at Harvard Medical School. She says, “Beauty draws us in. We can’t stop looking or listening or touching. It takes us outside ourselves and it motivates us. It’s essential to life and to happiness.


I couldn’t agree more.

The link to the story and TED radio hour is here.