Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Service and the Arts

Service and the Arts

In the US, arts and music programs in schools are often the first to be stripped when budgeting constraints demand cuts. And while it is true that this makes school less interesting for some and curtails growth and self expression, these are not the only tragedies. Art and music give us a mode of self-expression, the ability to pass on interpretations of life and history and to connect with others through service in the arts.

In Montville, Connecticut this correlation has taken on an impressive literal meaning for a class of eighth-grade students in Judy Abrams' Adventures in Music class at Leonard J. Tyl Middle School. These students spent their school year creating music of their own composition which was then compiled into two CDs which they donated to the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. They also sold copies of the CDs, the proceeds of which will also be donated to the Center. The Medical Center has promised that the music will be played in all parts of the center, for all patients and doctors to hear.

The music created by this class, for children of all ages who are suffering from severe illness, represents some of the best of what the link between arts and service has to offer. The project requires musical knowledge and some access to instruments but in the end it is a product of connecting with others in meaningful ways. The CDs are a gift that requires attention, time and care which are transferred to the children who receive them.

The ArtistCorps in Tennessee works with the same idea – that art is a gift we can give to others and something that can make a difference in lives and communities. By combining art-based learning and service-based learning, ArtistCorps brings artistic projects to communities that serve as forces for integration and development.

Programs include Critical Exposure, which teaches photography to young people who then use their new skills to expose disparities in public schools; the class of fifth graders in Minneapolis, MN, who designed a comic book to fight prejudice against those with HIV/AIDS; or the drama production Sentences, written, directed by and acted by 17 year olds to express the stories of kids whose parents have been incarcerated. These kinds of programs teach young people a lesson with their new skills, allowing them to use their artistic expression to make a difference in their communities and to speak out on issues that they think are important.

In New Mexico, the VSA arts AmeriCorps program provides art lessons to children and adults with developmental disabilities. Their outreach includes helping those with disabilities by creating individualized learning plans, tailored to the person’s specific needs. They also provide art classes on Saturdays to children with autism, giving the kids a few hours of fun and expression, and giving the parents a short break.

These AmeriCorps volunteers use their own artistic talents to give opportunities to kids, whose disabilities make it more difficult for them to participate in these forms of self expression. For kids whose ability to relate to the world and to others is made difficult by their disability, the chance to connect on a creative level with themselves and with others is vital.

These programs are only a few examples of the ways that arts and service can interact. In all of them, both the volunteers and those they were helping are able to gain something from the experience, be it a skill or a method of activism or just the knowledge that there is someone out there who cares about what they have to say, in whatever means they wish to say it.

Do you have any stories of how you have seen art and service intersect? Please share them in the comments below!


Anonymous said...
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commoncents said...

I love your blog!

Keep up the great work!!

Common Cents

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