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Some thoughts about Art, Politics, and Value[s]

Over the past few weeks I’ve had the chance to speak about the “survival” of the Arts and reflect about the value to our culture of the Arts. In that time, we’ve witnessed the attempt to stifle artistic expression by the Governor of Maine and the willingness on the part of the wealthiest Americans to cut funding for Arts programs that would deny access to the poor and disenfranchised in our nation. I feel like a rant!

No surprise that our millionaire Congress would never think to place a fair tax burden on the super rich but have no real problem with excluding the majority of America from affordable visual, musical, and performance opportunities. As I said at the annual Arts Foundation of Cape Cod conference a few weeks ago, we are quickly becoming a society of haves and have nots, with a wide gap in between. The affluent on Cape Cod move in circles that never intersect with the working poor, the homeless, the children being raised in substandard housing, etc. Oh sure, they’ll do their “benefit” champagne suppers to raise money, but where is the sense of shame, of urgency, of an embarrassment of riches? I mean, does anyone really think that they are worthy of their job earning them tens of millions of dollars in salary? Imagine if we could all take home millions working for “non-profits!”

We sit and watch as those who would deny our children the best that education can offer rail against the “high” cost of a comprehensive education! I would humbly ask them what the alternative is. Of all the things we hold dear as a democracy, surely the cornerstone must be free and equal access to equal education–INCLUDING the Arts!

While my colleagues in the corporate world reap the financial rewards that a consumer culture brings, I get to go to sleep knowing that my efforts actually try to uphold the precept of tikun olam(leaving the world better than I found it). A note from a grateful parent arrived today, thanking me for inspiring her daughter to a career in Marketing. It came with a copy of a paper she had written in college describing how she would use herself as a brand to fight her cancer. She fought well and bravely. She did not survive.

That I added value to her time with us fills me with emotions almost too extraordinary to bear and gives my life and work as an educator more meaning than those tens of millions of dollars ever would.

Do I think I deserve more? Yes. I’ve certainly earned it. I deserve more respect, more consideration, more recognition, more courtesy, and more appreciation for the gift that I give my nation. So does every hard-working teacher in America. Yes I’m in a union. I have to be because there are those who believe that what I teach has no value and that the Arts are only for the elite few.

Do teachers matter to you? Surely, somewhere at some point in your life, someone gave you that inspiration that accounts for who you are and what you have become. Tell them if you haven’t already done so. Better yet, stand up and fight with teachers across America to preserve and improve our public educational system and retain our commitment to the Arts.

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