Creating the New Face of Arts Education

When I was a kid growing up in the parochial schools of Rochester, NY, we had music and art classes several times a week. They were a mandatory part of the curriculum. You were also encouraged to join whatever music ensembles that existed and expected to play at several school concerts per year.  Sometimes there were more students in the concerts than were in the audience. We received a great foundation in music without traveling to lessons and without extra lesson or instrument rental fees or auditions for private music education. When I got to high school, I just took it for granted that all high schools had their fair share of extremely talented young singers and musicians and the means to cultivate that talent.

I  guess I never realized how fortunate we were to have that kind of education available right where we were in school. I cannot believe how much this has changed now. When I worked in higher education, I watched my music work-study students struggle to find student teacher placements in the local school system. The same for student art teachers. My friends’ kids now get their arts education primarily outside school from private teachers. But what about those kids who do not have the resources: money or access to teachers? It disturbs me to know that there is young arts talent out there who will not have the same great experiences we had.

I can go on about how studying music and arts benefits everyone, not just kids. However, you can do an Internet search and read up on that for yourself. Yet, as people bemoan the loss of arts education in our schools and the lack of funding for arts programming, the need for arts education is still very real. If funding for arts education is not returned to public school systems, then we need to find a way to reframe this problem to come up with viable solutions.

In addition, the old school model of higher arts education which emphasized education and arduous practice to make it to the top has not produced a plethora of graduates who have enjoyed better career satisfaction over the years. A large number of music graduates go on to a career in something else. Music and arts schools are still turning out graduates who may be skilled at music and arts, but little else, making it hard to make a living. Those schools who are offering business and entrepreneurship classes should be thinking of ways to fill that educational gap created by the slashing of arts education from the curriculum. It would fill a need for school kids and provides jobs for their graduates.

One general solution is promoting portfolio careers for new graduates where they do some performing, some educating, some entrepreneurial programming, etc. My experience is that these graduates are chockfull of ideas, and their proficiency with computers and the Internet can only help. Teaching lessons online or through community schools of music and arts, albeit not new ideas, are some ways to keep arts education going and graduates employed. However, there must be other ways to provide arts education to those people who can’t afford private instruction on their own.

Enter big corporations. I was in a local toy store over the holidays where they did free demonstrations with their musical instruments and arts and crafts kits. Obviously, it was shilling at its finest, designed to get the kids’ parents to spend money. However, every kid who stopped by to participate in the demonstrations learned something, regardless of whether their parents bought anything or not. These demonstrations also brought people together to share ideas, different ways to create Rainbow Loom bracelets or how to record rhythms on a synthesizer, for instance.

Maybe these corporations have hit on a way to sell while educating. However it happens, we need an approach, grassroots or corporate, to bring together the students who need arts education with those who are newly educated and beyond who can provide it.

When the Curtain Comes Down; Banishing the Lonely Blues

Whether you are a traveling consultant, a singer, an actor, a military person or a professional sports team member, it will come down to one fact, and that is: much of your working life will be spent on the road away from friends and loved ones. In addition, your schedule is going to be out-of-sync with most of the population as you cross time zones to do jobs that many of your friends and family probably don’t do or understand. It is easy to feel lonely and isolated once the show or job is over for the time being. Here are a few ways to prevent yourself from sinking into despair while on the road.

*Social media. Yes, everyone gets that Facebook, Instagram and other social media sites can keep you connected. Learn how to use them if you don’t know already and then get creative. Do you and your kids love crafting? Then create a Pinterest board where all of you can pin craft ideas. Sign up for Tumblr and post pictures of what you are experiencing. Skype your besties and follow up with a Twitter. Start and keep the conversations going on Facebook. None of these ideas take up a lot of time, and they can change your whole outlook when you are feeling sad.

*Bring something from home with you. One drug study monitor I knew brought a decorated Alltoids tin with pictures in it that her kids had made. It was small, easy to pack, something important to her that reminded her of why she was away from them. Don’t have kids? Keep up with the doings at your neighborhood club by liking them on Facebook. Or find something from home that has a logo from a favorite place and display it in your hotel or dressing room.

*Create a ritual. One of the loneliest times that my traveling clients speak of is when the show, the drug study or the tour of duty is over, and they have to move on to the next place. Not everyone can or wants to surround themselves with people at this point. However, the trick is not to let yourself get isolated. Create an aftershow ritual, one that pampers yourself, makes you feel better and keeps you connected. For some, it may be a Skype call home, while for others it may be going back to the hotel and ordering some awesome room service while watching their favorite movie or getting a midnight massage. If you are in a foreign country, learn the language. It makes it so much easier to make friends and feel at home.

*Rely on your professional networks. Your mama and your spouse may be the people who love you best in the whole world, but unless they have done the job that you do, they may not be able to easily empathize with your career problems. Even consultants who work alone can set up chat rooms or advance “coffee dates” to air their issues with colleagues who understand.

*Take a gap year. A gap year or month or couple of weeks can be time spent doing other things instead of or along with your career that keep you in proximity to your family and support networks. It may be consulting while cutting back on acting gigs or setting up a virtual music school while participating in fewer onstage performances.

***A special note about kids: As adults, we have learned how to say goodbye and that it does not always mean the end to relationships. However, kids are still new to this process, and repeated goodbyes bring with them fresh opportunities for grief and anxiety. This is tricky and not everyone can get it right all of the time. Witness the lyrics to Bonnie Raitt’s “Circle Dance,” a description of her relationship with actor dad, John Raitt. If you can understand that goodbyes can be super difficult for your kids, you’ve won half the battle. Part of that understanding means accepting that your spouse, your ex, or your parents are your kids’ world for a little while. Again, creating rituals can help. Mommy’s lap may not be always there to sit on, but the daily Skype call is coming or the online map always shows where she is. These simple rituals can provide tremendous comfort.

*Therapy is not a four-letter word. Talking it out with a therapist can help a lot especially when depression and displacement makes substance abuse seem like a great idea. Alcohol and drugs may provide short-term oblivion, but often have devastating effects on your mind and body, ones that can ruin your career.

Ultimately, these types of careers demand sacrifices from everyone involved. It is especially difficult when the career is more a necessity than a vocation. Reminding yourself why you do what you do and what your goals are can help.