Last fall, my husband Jim and I hosted a conversation on arts education in Chicago. One of four such conversations held around the country, the evening was designed to bring together thought leaders, administrators, philanthropists and members of President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities (PCAH) to discuss the national imperative of arts education and the PCAH’s landmark report Reinvesting in Arts Education: Winning America’s Future Through Creative Schools.
We were pleased to have co-chair Margo Lion, Vice Chair Mary Schmidt Campbell, and fellow PCAH members Damian Woetzel, Yo-Yo Ma, and Howard Gottleib join us for this important evening.
Joining them were an impressive list of local academics and educators including: the head of Chicago Public Schools, Jean-Claude Brizard; President Walter Massey of the School of the Art Institute; President Robert Zimmer of the University of Chicago; Timothy Knowles of the Urban Education Initiative; and Deborah Rutter of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Also joining us were a group of prominent civic leaders including Penny Pritzker and Bryan Traubert, Caryn and King Harris, Penny Sebring and Chuck Lewis, Julie and Brian Simmons, Renee Crown, Nancy and Steve Crown, Nora Daley and Margo and Tom Pritzker.
Louis Vuitton has partnered with President’s Committee to facilitate these conversations about the arts education research and its effect on in-school success and after-school programs across the country. Valerie Chapoulaud-Floquet, President of Louis Vuitton North America, welcomed the participants, and the involvement of her company in this conversation underscores the dynamic confluence of art and commerce—the arts’ ability to nurture creativity and innovative thinking skills, which are essential to remaining competitive in a global economy.
Mary Schmidt Campbell, PCAH Vice-Chair, reiterated the President’s Committee commitment to arts education in national school reform and introduced the report, which features research and case studies documenting the beneficial effects of the arts in school programming. Among its findings is a 2010 IBM Global CEO study that identifies creativity as the most important leadership quality. For a fashion leader like Louis Vuitton, creativity and design are essential to its success.
The stars of the evening were the artists. Renowned dancer Damian Woetzel introduced youth poet Jerlan Payne, who performed with Yo-Yo Ma. Then, Memphis jooker Lil’ Buck defied gravity with his liquefied dance routine to Camille Saint-Saens “The Swan”, accompanied by Yo-Yo and cellist Philippe Boulanger. Although not all children exposed to dance or music lessons will become great artists like Damian or Yo-Yo Ma, it’s been proven time and again that music training increases math understanding and proficiency, and integrating visual arts into lesson plans with design and physics make those lessons more absorbable and profound.
The inspired energy of the performances carried over into a vibrant discussion about arts impact on Chicago, which is known for having passionate and enlightened civic leaders who are generous with their time and resources. The assembled leadership group understands how public and private collaboration can achieve community goals, particularly in when using the arts to create iconic public spaces like Millennium Park with its performing arts spaces, public art and gardens.
The President’s Committee executive director Rachel Goslins wrapped up the evening by reminding everyone that the “arts are one of the most effective ways out there to teach the kind of open-ended thinking, risk-taking and intuitive leaps that lead directly to increased creativity.”
She encouraged attendees to continue the conversation about sharing data and exploring ways in which effective art strategies could be used in Chicago schools. Our guests look forward to future discussions and to the development of specific arts education action plans.