Celebrating young artists

Jan. 13, 2014 @ 05:15 PM

Writing on the website of the national non-profit Arts Education Partnership, Julie Fry, program officer for the performing arts program of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, argued for “the importance of arts education” at every level of government.

“We recognize that what we have here is an education issue, not just an arts issue,” Fry wrote. “We believe that not only can a well-rounded arts education inspire future artists, audience members, and arts patrons, it also can improve the school experience for students and enhance learning outcomes.”

It was a concise statement of why we should care about arts in education for far more than arts’ sake.  It is sometimes seen, especially by troubled taxpayers in tight budgetary times, as a frill, something akin to play.

But arts education flourishes in Durham, as was abundantly evident on Sunday when the annual showcase of student art opened at the N. C. Central University Art Museum.  The artwork of more than 200 Durham Public School students will be on display there through the end of this month and Kenneth Rodgers, the museum directory, said Sunday that the exhibit ‘seems to get better each year.”

The showcase helps to honor and celebrate the students whose work is chosen for the event.

Those students include Britney Balmer, a senior at Durham School of the Arts whose work is in the exhibit. Balmer “has an astonishing work ethic,” her art teacher, Carolyn Maynard, told The Herald-Sun’s Jamica Ashley. “I’m thrilled that such a hard-working girl with great ideas was recognized,” Maynard said.

It also is a good reminder to the community that DPS is awash with smart, creative and dedicated students, a reality sometimes overshadowed by the macro statistics of low test scores and administrative missteps. It also reflects the importance DPS correctly attaches to arts education.

“This is just a lovely example of the kinds of opportunities available in the district’s public schools,” DPS board member Nancy Cox said Sunday afternoon.

Cox also praised another important aspect of the event -- the “incredible collaboration” between the school system and N. C. Central University. 

Balmer, the DPS senior, hopes to have a career in art, as an illustrator or graphic artist. Most students who benefit from the schools’ arts programs will be headed for other careers.

But they benefit from the schools’ commitment to arts education.

“While not all students will become professional dancers, musicians, actors, or visual artists,” the DPS website says in explaining the arts curriculum, “all students will benefit from skills and processes that are developed through the arts and that can be applied in a variety of disciplines and settings.”

Or as Faye Brandon, grandmother of exhibitor Roderick Brandon III, put it more succinctly, “Art is essential to everything else.”

That certainly makes it worth celebrating as the schools and NCCU are doing this month.