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Don’t Forget Leadership and Teamwork

I was helping out a local high school by conducting mock interviews with their students today. I enjoy doing this because the school does a great job preparing the students for the experience. I often don’t realize just how nervous the students are until the sweaty palm handshake as they depart. The last student I spoke to was applying for a position as a nurses aide and I was pleased to hear him talk about how his experience as the section leader in his band conferred leadership and conflict management skills. I made sure I complimented him on mentioning that and coached him about mentioning it in future interviews. (My interview partner who was not an arts person did so as well.)

It occurred to me that when I have read about the benefits of the arts recently, leadership and teamwork didn’t seem to figure largely in the lists. Given the recent push that education make someone employable, it is probably important that it be emphasized more.

I did a quick and, by no means exhaustive, survey of articles listing the benefits of arts education and found that my suspicion was generally true. Many talked about the cultivation of very desirable traits like intellectual and emotional development, flexibility of worldview, judgement, problem solving, expressiveness and ability to anticipate consequences.

In our desire to justify ourselves by identifying some distinctive advantages conferred only by the arts and creative expression, we seem to have forgotten some basic benefits a high school kid can cite. Speaking of which, while we are touting these benefits, it probably behooves us long term to make sure high school kids who are having these experiences can cite the benefits.

The intellectual and emotional development advantages frequently referenced are often individual achievements. Leadership and team work are assets in the social sphere and warrant inclusion. It may seem of little consequence now, but I suspect there is a fair chance that in the next 10 years technologically induced anti-social/introspective tendencies may be be deemed a crisis and these qualities will be highly prized.

This all being said, there are a lot of benefits to arts education and it is tough to list them all. If you are looking for a list to keep handy, here are some great ones. (A couple which list leadership and teamwork). Again, these are some I personally find helpful rather than an exhaustive list.

Americans for the Arts
National Assembly of State Arts Agencies
Artsblog post by Kristen Engebretsen

Feel free to add a few of your favs in the comments section.

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Advocating Under Pressure

I received an email at 3:00 pm today “reminding” me that the deadline for submitting a letter of testimony to the state legislature about the possible layoffs of the majority of the state arts foundation staff was due by 5:00 pm. I use the quotes because I was entirely unaware that the hearings were today.

But this is a topic which really concerns me because the governor has sent lay off notices to pretty much everyone at the organization, including the executive director. The only people who were exempted were a clerk and a couple federally funded positions. Without any staff, the state is in danger of losing funding from many sources, including the NEA and federal stimulus funds.

What follows is the letter I managed to throw together in an hour and a half. It certainly isn’t perfect. At the same time, it is more than the notice I received asked for. The letter advised me to throw a couple sentences together because the legislature probably wouldn’t read it and was only interested in the total number of letters received on the subject.

I figured at the very least it would be good practice for advocacy letter writing under pressure to write something with more substance than being requested. I know a couple people intended to focus on the stats and economic benefits of the arts. However I remembered a talk I attended by Jonathan Katz of the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies on the subject of advocating to decision makers. He talked about using concrete examples of how supporting your cause will show them advancing the public good. While I did mention economic value briefly, my main focus was on the arts valuing the history and culture of under served communities.


I am writing out of concern over the proposed staff cuts to the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts (SFCA). Though the arts represent a small part of the state’s budget, the impact they have are tremendous. Other testimony you have received speaks to the economic impact the arts have in the state leveraging $35 in ancillary spending for every ticket and entry fee paid. So much of that economic activity starts with the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts. Without a staff to administer it, funding from regional organizations like the Western States Arts Federation, national organizations like the National Endowment for the Arts and federal stimulus funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is in jeopardy. The loss of this funding can mean a loss or diminished private funding from endowments and foundations which require their support be matched.

Losing access to these funding sources will have a very tangible impact on the availability of culture and the arts for the people of Hawaii and will undercut attempts to disseminate Hawaiian culture nationally and internationally. The first thing people entering Leeward Community College Theatre enjoy is the 102 feet wide by 23 feet high mural by Jean Charlot entitled, “The Relation of Man and Nature in Old Hawaii.” It is a gorgeous work of art commissioned and maintained by the SFCA Art in Public Places program. I am pretty rabid about protecting this magnificent, but fragile fresco from potential damage. As the only major performing arts facility on the leeward side of the island, serving the Waianae Coast, Mililani and North Shore area communities, it is only proper that residents have such a beautiful work to remind them of the historical and cultural heritage of the state when they attend events. It is fortunate that the mural benefited from some minor repairs and restoration two years ago thanks to the SFCA.

The performances themselves benefit from the funding administered by the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts. While the university provides a great deal of support, many of the events which the theatre presents depend heavily on the support the SFCA acquires. Leeward Community College Theatre works with partners throughout the state to leverage our combined purchasing power and secure favorable fees for artists to perform. However, it is still very expensive to bring performances to the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Because of our desire to make performances accessible to people living on the Waianae Coast, Mililani and the North Shore, we charge a much lower ticket price than our partners on the other islands. The funding secured through the SFCA combined with a lot of hard work helps us end the year just barely in the black. We are committed to keeping performances affordable for our constituents. The SFCA makes that possible and we acknowledge that in our print materials, our website and in an announcement from the stage before most performances.

We use the SFCA funding to support performances that reflect the lives of the residents of Hawaii, celebrating their culture, history and engendering pride. We have had groups from throughout the Pacific from places like New Zealand, Easter Island, Samoa, Tuvalu and Tokelau.

We certainly haven’t been simply bringing in groups from the outside, but have also been instrumental in promoting Hawaiian culture and raising its profile nationally and internationally.

We presented Halau O Kekuhi’s “Hanau Ka Moku” which celebrated the emergence of the new island, Kama‘ehu, off the southeast of the Big Island of Hawaii. The show toured the state, the Mainland, including a performance at Wolf Trap, the National Park for the Performing Arts.

We also presented Maui’s Halau Pa’u O Hi’iaka’s performance of the life of Kahekili, who nearly unified the islands under his single rule. The performance also toured the state, the Mainland and Germany and has plans for going to Japan.

We brought Honolulu born Keo Woolford in to perform his one person show, “I-land”, a piece about Hawaiian identity that had multiple successful runs in New York and Los Angeles.

Leeward Community College Theatre and Aiea based Tau Dance Theater produced a contemporary opera entirely in Hawaiian in 2006 based on the Naupaka myth which toured the state. In 2011 we will team up again to produce a piece about Hawaiian snow goddess, Poliahu.

Finally, we are working with Honolulu based Monkey Waterfall to create a site specific show about what it means to be a celebrity that will range across the Leeward CC campus.

We have no hesitation when it comes to presenting events that resonate with the lives of the state’s residents because we know the theatre will be packed. People are voracious for these sort of performances.

Many of the events we sponsor have activities that go beyond just an evening’s performance. We have outreach performances for school children from the Waianae Coast, Pearl City, Mililani and North Shore both at our facility and in the schools. There have been workshops and master classes people can take to hone their technique. But the people of O‘ahu have exhibited aloha MANY times with potluck meals both at Leeward CC, in private homes and on the beaches. Visiting artists have been invited to jam sessions in bars where they have been astonished by the technique of slack key and steel guitar masters and left trying to master these new skills.

The people of Hawaii, (and those lucky artists), stand to lose all these opportunities if the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts is made ineffectual by staffing cuts. I urge you to consider all these issues in your deliberations.

Mahalo nui loa,

Joe Patti

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