In a time of budget cuts and economic recession, the phrase ‘arts funding slashed’ has been heard way too often. As Care2 blogger Safa wrote, ‘It’s been repeated to the point of being a broken record- lack of public support to the arts.’
Safa’s spelled out why you should give a damn about arts funding. I’ve got another reason which is specifically about how the arts are an integral part of the education and learning of all students. Especially for students whose learning styles and neurological functioning does not fit with ‘norms’ and ‘standards’ and such, the arts provide students of every sort with different and novel ways to express themselves, to learn, to create, and to show their abilities.
A case in point. A week ago, we got the most excited, enthusiastic, simply thrilled note from one our son Charlie’s art teacher. Charlie is on the moderate to severe end of the autism spectrum and minimally verbal. Experiences with art are generally more of the ‘please just let me get through this activity with the smelly gooey stuff as fast as possible see I’m done!’ sort. As I wrote:
Charlie, the art teacher wrote, did a ‘FABULOUS’ job in art: They were making collages ‘in the style of Mondrian‘; the art teacher wrote that she was ‘veryimpressed with how he chose and planned his squares.’
On the one hand, I was not surprised: Charlie has had always had a thing for colors and shapes—these were among the first words he learned to understand. Indeed, he learned his colors because his first lead ABA therapist made laminated construction paper squares in different colors and oh did Charlie love those squares! We kept them for years; one therapist used them to teach him to pedal his trike when he was 3. And Charlie definitely has a thing about order and has been creating arrangements like the one below with my shoes and other household items quite a bit of late.
On the other hand, it’s something to hear that Charlie’s ordering and arranging has led to the creation of an artwork.
Looking at Charlie’s collage (a photograph of which graces the top of this post), I could not help thinking about how vital the arts are for kids like Charlie who struggle to learn to read and write, and to learn in traditional ways.
Last Saturday in Great Britain, the Live Art Development Agency (Lada) put on Access All Areas, a symposium about disability and ‘how live art lies at the forefront of disability art practice, thinking and theory.’ The Guardian describes a number of the performances:
In many cases, such as Kim Noble’s account of his depression (including the making of a new Pret sandwich featuring “ham, anti-depressants and mayo”), the Disabled Avant-Garde’s response to the word “sick”, and Sean Burn’s reclamation of the language of lunacy featuring a “nutcase”, marbles and several walnuts, the presentations became performance. Never for a moment during discussion could you forget what was being talked about.
Indeed, you were constantly aware of the hacking and pounding sounds coming from behind a curtain where Martin O’Brien was undertaking a durational performance. Mucus Factory was inspired by his cystic fibrosis and presents his body as a medical specimen on which he brutally performs the physiotherapy necessary to clear his airways of mucus and keep himself alive. Even the titles of the sessions were taken from artworks, including Raimund Hoghe’s Throwing the Body into Flightand Bobby Baker’s Pull Yourself Together.
With the art centre stage, the programme allowed for the emergence of some challenging issues that are not frequently voiced or dealt with honestly. Which comes first: the disability or the artist? Does the work of disabled artists have to foreground disability? Is it the artist’s task to upset people? When does interest become voyeurism? How do disabled artists use their bodies to create work over which they have control, and which does not simply demand that they make a spectacle of themselves? The latter was brilliantly demonstrated by Pete Edwards, who has no control over his body because of cerebral palsy, but who showed in a short presentation that he was totally in control of his art. Dancer and choreographer Caroline Bowditch commented that she often preferred to create work in an intimate setting because it gave audiences permission to look upon the disabled body.
Access All Areas—and organizations like the St. Louis-based Uppity Theatre Comapny’s DisAbility Project—offer, as the Guardian notes, not so much answer as simply some very good questions, about disability, about being different and ‘differently abled’; about creation, aesthetics, and art. About what, you might say, makes us human—about some very big and fundamental questions that, I’d argue, are key to the education of all students.
The arts are the farthest thing from ‘luxuries’; from ‘extras.’ The arts are simply essential.
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Collage by Charlie Fisher.
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