Dario Natarelli, a 2016 U.S. Presidential Scholar in the Arts and a 2016 graduate of Fiorello H. LaGuardia HS of Music & Art and Performing Arts, New York, NY, ("the Fame School") addresses the Class of 2016 on the importance of art education.
Lincoln Center, New York, New York
June 23, 2016, 1:00 pm
I just returned from Washington, D.C. where I was fortunate enough to work with Debbie Allen (Fame!) during my stay with fellow Presidential Scholars in the Arts. We rehearsed for a show at the Kennedy Center to salute ALL of this year’s Presidential Scholars, academic AND artistic. Those who do not feel that art education should hold a priority in schools do not truly understand that they are surrounded by art and use it every day. We are all graduating today, but we are not all going into fields that may be considered “artistic.”
But it is still our responsibility to be strong advocates for the arts because art is the book you read for pleasure. It’s a film you see with your friends. Art is the music you work out to and a photograph on the cover of a college textbook. Art is the design of your computer and even the chair you are sitting in right now. It’s the car you drive. It’s the shoes on your feet. It’s the shelves in a bodega. It is a lullaby you sing to your baby and art is movement. Expression. Creativity. Innovation. So, imagine a world without art as a priority. It’s happening. And we, as alumni of LaGuardia, are responsible for fighting for art programs in schools to not only survive, but to grow and improve by allocating more time and money into them so that the next generation has programs even better than ours.
Yes, core subjects are necessary, but what if a student needs an artistic environment in order to reach his potential in science? Then what? Does he drop out? Our First Lady, Michelle Obama said, “No one should ever think that dance and music and theater are a luxury…because for so many of our students, they are truly necessities. They’re the reason these kids show up [to school].” It’s why LaGuardia has such a high graduation rate. How many days have you come to school tired, but you still came because your studio was waiting for you? You came because sometimes, you’d get that academic teacher who understood how creative kids learn.
I tap danced to Eye of the Tiger for an English assignment one year. It was an assignment that spoke to my creative side. Teaching to a student’s strengths allows them to grasp concepts and, in turn, yields better academic results. John Steinbeck said, “I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist.… Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.”
As students of the arts, we are probably as, if not more, prepared for the real world than traditional students because we have experienced humility and failure in front of an audience. We’ve been brave in our creative choices and have respected others for theirs. We have learned perseverance and tasted success. Our vulnerability has been exposed and we have learned to work with it, rather than hide, as we strive for brilliance because our teachers and our peers and our families support us and our art.
With every theatrical production, symphony, concert, painting, and piece of choreography… we have learned to question, research, hypothesize, experiment, and offer something extra than just a dissertation of data, we give people emotion and the freedom to feel, with what we’ve created.
Now it’s time to give back. We’ve been given an incredible gift, a LaGuardia diploma, and we must understand that we have a responsibility to continue the vision of Mayor LaGuardia and make a deliberate effort to be a model for art programs worldwide.