I wish to say...by Sheryl Oring



Americans for the Arts

Penny Ross eyed my “I Wish to Say” office from across the room and I beckoned her over and invited her to dictate a postcard to the President. It was early in the morning at the annual Americans for the Arts convention in San Diego, and Ms. Ross clearly had something to say.

She started her postcard to the White House like this: “I live in Chandler, Arizona. Arizona has eliminated all of the funding for the arts.”

Ms. Ross went on to tell me that she’d been teaching art to junior high students for 12 years, but that her job was just eliminated. “They don’t want to spend money on art supplies,” she said. “But the annual budget was $500. And that served 1,000 students.”
So even when there was funding for an art teacher, she relied on found objects and her own contribution of supplies for projects.

Now, the studio she set up isn’t used. No funding for the arts. No art projects in the studio.

What does that mean for our future? Christine Meeker Lange of Sarasota, Fla., said: “If there was no art in the schools, I wouldn’t have made it past kindergarten. … This country was founded on creativity and innovation and we’re losing ground. What legacy will we leave to our children?”

Jessica Mele of San Francisco called on the President to “stand up and get angry about providing a high quality education for all of our children… We’re failing, and we can do better.”

Robert Friedman, offered a suggestion for making arts more of a priority. “We’re one of the only Western countries without a culture minister,” he noted. Creating a cabinet level position for culture could help put the U.S. “on the same playing field as the rest of the world in cultural exchange.”

Not everyone sent a postcard. One woman sat down and told me about how she is the last remaining arts and culture staff member in her city. Everyone else has been laid off. “I’m not alone,” she told me. “There are lots of people in my position at this conference.”

As the mother of a three-year-old and an artist myself, I can’t help but think about what this means for our future. How do we encourage creativity in all fields when the one subject that typically rewards creativity isn’t taught in our schools?

Hope came near the end of the event, when Michelle Holdt Roderick of San Francisco sat down at my desk. She’s a 20-year veteran performing arts teacher who recently decided to change course and become an advocate for arts education. Ms. Holdt Roderick is starting a nonprofit called Arts Ed Matters. She wrote to the President: “If you could make one great change in your term, that would be to ensure that every child in this country receives an education in visual art, music, dance and theater. Every child, every school, every day.”