Are We Okay?

Posted by Jessica Wilt, Aug 21, 2014 2 comments

Jessica Wilt Jessica Wilt


With all the not so good news happening in the world lately – war along the Gaza Strip, new tensions flaring in Iraq, the aftermath in Afghanistan, and nationally; the racial chaos unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri along with the devastating passing of comedian and actor Robin Williams to depression and suicide – I find myself asking the question, “Are we okay?” The world could use a giant hug right now. I know I could use one.

If we're not okay, what are some things we can do to make ourselves and our kids feel better? The combination of Arts Education with Social Service or Creative Youth Development are not necessarily partnerships we think of when it comes to the arts, but really, they are critical. We can talk all day until we’re blue in the face about the value of arts education in K-12 and higher education, arts integration, the new arts standards and common core, arts advocacy and many other reasons why we support arts education, but how often do we actually talk about the arts being a critical part of our daily physical, emotional and mental health?

Americans for the Arts released an important State of the Field Arts in Healthcare Report in 2009 that highlights the myriad of ways the arts can influence patient care including “Community Well-Being.” The report states “Arts in healthcare can benefit communities by engaging people in arts programs aimed at promoting prevention and wellness activities and communicating health information to improve knowledge.” More and more our arts education programs, traditionally confined within school walls and the school calendar year, are beginning to filter out into the community all year-round.

I see this happening in New York City. Schools, often located in rough neighborhoods riddled with crime and poverty, are reaching beyond the classroom to include parents, families and the surrounding community. Thoughtful principals and arts education program directors who are resourceful with budget spending are looking at ways to spend money not only providing much-needed services directly to their students, but to the community at large - often times with long-lasting social affects. Schools are becoming the thriving hubs of neighborhoods 365 days a year. Why shouldn’t they be?

Theatre Arts Production Company (TAPCo.) is a 6th-12th grade South Bronx NYC public school recently highlighted in NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer’s State of the Arts report that found “more than 42 percent of schools that lack either full-time or part-time certified arts teachers” are located in the South Bronx and Central Brooklyn. TAPCo. Principal Ron Link isn’t comfortable just being another NYC DOE statistic, he’s making great change at his school by infusing the arts to become one of the first STEAM focused schools in NYC and providing his students, staff and the greater Tremont South Bronx community opportunities for healthy living with student created plans for a TAPCo. Community Rooftop Garden.

When asked about the garden project, Link said, “I wanted our students to design a rooftop garden and community area because (1) we had secured an AT&T grant through the 92Y that gave our students a professional architect-led class for an entire year where they learned how to confront and solve design problems using SketchUp, GoogleEarth, and a 3D printer, and (2) We are inner-city. The roof is quiet with the sky as the only limit. Our students’ designs were phenomenal. They created a virtual study, garden, and performance space to scale.

Adonis and Steph Roof DesignAdonis and Steph Roof Design TAPCo. Rooftop Garden Student-Created Sketch

And when it comes to inviting the community to participate Link gets really excited, “We will choose native plants for our live butterfly garden installation at a Native Plant Share here in the Bronx. We will partner with our neighborhood soup kitchen (POTS, which stands for Part of the Solution) to have a vegetable and herb garden for us to help flavor the neighborhood in a whole new way! The performance space will be made available to neighborhood organizations for talks, concerts, as well as a providing a place for all students to see, listen to and connect with other youthspeakers.

A Reason to Survive, a local arts organization based in San Diego focuses on the arts “as a prevention and intervention vehicle to create positive transformation in children and youth facing adversity.” To see firsthand how an arts program at A Reason to Survive changed the life of a homeless child, check out their Oscar winning documentary film, Inocente (trailer below). If more children had exposure to arts education during their K-12 years and high-risk youth received therapeutic services where arts education was the foundation, I often wonder if racial tensions and rioting like what’s happening in Ferguson, Missouri could be averted?

Americans for the Arts will be highlighting Arts Education, Social Service and Creative Youth Development during a weeklong Blog Salon happening September 14th – 19th on its popular ARTSblog. In addition, a special Twitter chat with A Reason to Survive CEO Matt D’Arrigo and AFTA Arts Education Council members will happen at 3:00pm EDT on Friday, September 19th. I hope you will join us for this very important conversation!

With summer ending and the back to school flurry beginning, how would you answer the question, “Are we okay?” After months of not feeling well myself, and pushing through unusual pain the first part of this summer; I was officially diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer called Ewing’s Sarcoma the beginning of July. Now that I have this cancer diagnosis, (and the good news – after months of chemotherapy and extensive surgery, I will be okay!) I'm a lot more interested in making connections to how the arts can heal and look forward to continuing the “Are we okay?” conversation in September.


Editor's Note: For more information on Ewing's Sarcoma and to support Jessica during her journey to recovery, please check out her Give Forward campaign.

2 responses for Are We Okay?


Sandy Seufert says
August 21, 2014 at 4:07 pm

Thank you, Jessica, for this thoughtful piece and I wish you the very best on your personal healing journey. Times like now, for you and for all of us, highlight what is truly important in life and how paramount it is for us to feel connected to something meaningful that allows us to express who we are. Thus the reason the arts are so perfect and critical for this mass healing that needs to take place.

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Sally Fairman says
September 06, 2014 at 8:36 pm

Thank you for your inspiring and well-researched piece! As Executive Director of a performing arts program for under-served youth, I also noticed the appetite for parents and families to participate directly in the work and started an inter-generational program - groups of 20-25 participants write one original script together and then memorize, rehearse and perform it for the public. I know first hand that the arts heal! Thanks again!

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