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Ready for a Renaissance

by Andrea J. Stevenson

March 7,2008

As a relatively new Charlottean transplanted from the chillier Northeast, I am fascinated by Charlotte’s unique blend of the personal (its warm, nurturing, Southern character), the cultural (the breadth of talented artists and growing arts organizations) and the corporate (the strength of its business community and the presence of global corporate headquarters). This region is primed for a renaissance in arts education.

Arts education here is in a singular position to support individual, collective and corporate growth and success. It raises student academic achievement, increases student engagement with school and community, and produces the next generation of creative employees ready to advance the work of Charlotte’s businesses and nonprofit organizations.

The first two benefits are well documented: Research has confirmed that increasing involvement in arts education results in a parallel increase in both verbal and math SAT scores. Students receiving arts instruction in school have better attendance records and are more likely to participate in academic competitions. For many students, arts activities are the catalysts that inspire them to achieve in other subjects, the creative outlets that provide balance for more objective courses such as math and science. Many Americans have witnessed these benefits and understand their value: In a 2005 national poll, the Harris organization found that 93% of those surveyed agreed that the arts are vital to providing a well rounded education for children.

The third benefit is frequently the least well-known. Students who receive hands-on training in the arts develop practical skills that transfer to a wide range of careers. They gain experience in creative problem solving, goal-setting, meeting deadlines and performing under pressure. Ensemble instruction teaches them to work in teams and value both individual and collective talent. Through discussions of media, tempo, volume, phrasing and light, students develop strong verbal communication skills as they debate and honor different points of view and artistic decisions. The ability to analyze and interpret music is a strong foundation for the ability to analyze and interpret markets, data and trends. As Ray Nasher, the late founder of The Nasher Company, eloquently phrased it, "The arts are a major force in the growth and development of our global business world. Through the arts, people learn creativity and innovation. The partnership between the arts and business improves not only economic development but also the social fabric and enlightenment of society."

Arts education provides remarkable, tangible benefits to Charlotte corporations and nonprofits. In a study reported recently in the Boston Globe, 83% of corporate executives rated creativity as an essential skill of the 21st century workforce, but only 21% felt that current young workers exhibit excellent creative thinking skills. Investing in this pool of creative employees in Charlotte allows the city and the region to grow its own talented employee base without importing it from out of state.

Arts education also nurtures the next generation of arts patrons and attendees: The Knight Foundation’s remarkable Shining Eyes study notes that one of the strongest determinants of adult arts participation appears to be a person’s hands-on arts education as a child. Growing a future family of arts supporters is vital to the Charlotte region’s quality of life and the long-term success of its cultural organizations.

This unique combination of the personal and the communal is the core of our mission at Community School of the Arts: Transforming lives and inspiring community through outstanding and accessible arts education. As we teach music and the visual arts, we transform our students and our community. We make the benefits of high-quality arts education accessible to students with economic need through financial aid, scholarships and free outreach programs. Our students take what they’ve learned through music and art with them into their lives and into the region’s workforce.

As Henry T. Segerstrom declared, “To support the arts is its own reward. For business, it builds better communities, develops more tolerant and broadly educated consumers and creates in employees a sense of pride in the social responsibility of their employers. For our society, it enriches each of us through understanding the strength of multicultural diversity."

We invite you to support arts education as a crucial foundation for Charlotte’s growth and financial success.

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