"Grit is a determining factor when it comes to kids from tough backgrounds succeeding," national teaching artistry expert Eric Booth told a crowd of 150-plus people gathered at the 'Art + Kids: Growing Up Great' Fred Talk held Tuesday night at the Rainey Institute. "And nothing determines grit more than practicing one of those damn instruments!"
Booth's comment drew laughter, especially from parents in the audience who know firsthand how much sacrifice is involved when a child commits herself wholeheartedly to studying an art form. Throughout the night, parents, arts leaders, educators and community members shared stories of the impact of mastery-based arts education, which they stated could be profound and life-changing.
Richard outlined the foundation's longstanding support for the arts in Cleveland, arguing that the arts have aided the city's revitalization. "We're working to make sure every Clevelander – especially the least advantaged – gets the opportunities they need to thrive," he said. "It's their voices we need to hear the most."
Eric Booth began his energetic presentation by describing Renaissance High School in L.A, an inner city, largely minority school that could have become another stereotype. Yet instead, the school is thriving -- which Booth credits in part to its mastery-based arts programs, which engage kids in and out of school.
In other words, there's nothing quite like the challenge of mastering an art form -- whether it's painting or poetry -- to convince kids to take big risks and "GO FOR IT!"
In the discussion that followed Booth's presentation, Cleveland Foundation Director of Institutional Learning and Arts Initiatives Kathleen Cerveny stated that beyond the benefits of stimulating curiosity, creativity and critical thinking, mastery-based arts programs also foster healthy citizens. "The arts can be an incredibly powerful tool not only for educational attainment but for personal development as well," she said.
Darnell Weaver, conductor of the El Sistema @ Rainey youth orchestra and a former Rainey student, said the arts instill a culture of high expectations. "In order for anyone to succeed or grow, you need struggle," he said. "If you’re doing weight training, the heavier the weight, the stronger you become. The more we can challenge the children, the more they’re attentive, the more they want to grasp onto it."
Discussion ensued about the need to strengthen access to arts programs in "arts deserts" and ways to define the characteristics of a successful teaching artist. Booth stated that not all artists are innately good teachers, yet the vast majority are "educable" and can make a difference in kids' lives if they're given the right training. The biggest problem with teaching artistry, he said, is the "gig mentality" where artists come into a classroom and leave without making a long-term commitment. The greatest impact is made when artists give personally and engage deeply.
"Arts can do the same thing as sports for kids. And maybe more." #FredTalksCLE— FreshWaterCLE (@FreshWaterCLE) March 10, 2015
When the question above was posed by an audience member, Booth made an argument that the U.S. is seeing a great debate between those who consider the arts to be supplemental to the curriculum and those who consider them to be fundamental. "We will see a rising up of the other definition [that they're fundamental] because it delivers the things we want and need in terms of education," he predicted, although he believes it will take years for this to happen.
How did arts come to be considered outside core curriculum? How do we get it back -- and should philanthropy play a role? #FredTalksCLE— FreshWaterCLE (@FreshWaterCLE) March 10, 2015
Following the panel discussion, attendees broke out into table discussions. The questions that they responded to are listed below. The Cleveland Foundation intends to use the ideas generated in this discussion in order to shape its future arts priorities and identify needs in mastery-based arts programs.
Q1: Think about a time when you were completely immersed in a project or a skill you were learning. What was it? #FredTalksCLE
Q2: When you think about that experience, what support systems and resources helped you along the way? #FredTalksCLE
Q2: Support systems can mean a wide range of things: parents, facilities, neighbors, transportation, inspiring teachers, etc. #FredTalksCLE
Q3: Thinking about that support, what assets do your neighborhoods currently have?
Q3: How can those assets be used to grow programs such as these in your neighborhoods? #FredTalksCLE
Q4: Thinking about those existing assets, what is missing? What’s the most important asset that your community needs? #FredTalksCLE
Here's a sample of a few tweets from the #FredTalksCLE Twitter discussion. Stay tuned for more on this topic in Fresh Water Cleveland!
Grit can come from mastering an instrument--it's hard to learn --Eric Booth #FredTalksCLE creating relentless learners— Fran DiDonato (@FranCDiDonato) March 10, 2015
Kathleen: #1 talent sought by U.S. CEOs is creativity in their workforce. #FredTalksCle— Cleveland Foundation (@CleveFoundation) March 10, 2015
Arts mastery can be a struggle, but it sets you up to face academic and professional challenges in future. Grit. Fortitude. #FredTalksCLE— farquharj (@farquharj) March 10, 2015
"The moment that you make a total commitment to something, everything changes." #FredTalksCLE— Kimalon Meriweather (@Kaymer9) March 11, 2015
Ronn Richard, closing it out: "Teach us, inform us, be our thought partner." #FredTalksCLE— FreshWaterCLE (@FreshWaterCLE) March 11, 2015