From my earliest memories, the arts have always been a part of my life and have given me the confidence and courage to develop and give the best of myself to the community. The youngest of five children, despite limited financial resources, my parents required each of us to study an instrument and engage in other cultural pursuits to contribute to our full development. I had the privilege of studying two instruments—piano and flute, and being a musician was a significant part of my identity. The relationships I developed with the “arts kids” provided the encouragement, confidence, and drive to pursue excellence not only in the arts but all areas of my life. I navigated my way through school actively involved in music until my graduation from high school.
While a strong musician, I didn’t foresee a career as a professional performing artist or teacher, which were the only two careers I was aware of for those who major in arts in college. As a result, I opted for a major in business (one of my interests) when I started college and for the first time since the age of 7, didn’t study music or perform. After a successful academic year, it was clear that something was missing and at the urging of my mother, I reached out to the Fine Arts department and was informed that a new major, Music Business, had been added. The program was a great match for me and after auditioning and being accepted into the program, I thrived. The catalyst to the career I am in today was an internship at the Civic Center of Greater Des Moines, which gave me an outstanding introduction to arts management including hands-on experience in marketing, box-office, and education. I had an opportunity to plan an event for local children around the production, Peter Pan, including outreach, transportation, and program design, which is exactly the type of work I do today.
On July 30, I celebrated my 15th anniversary at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts as Director of DC School and Community Initiatives. Not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined arts education would have resulted in a professional career enabling me to work with with renowned artists including Kennedy Center Honorees Arthur Mitchell (1993) and Yo-Yo Ma (2011) to plan and deliver arts education programs. Each day, I interact with artists, educators, families, and youth, and have continued to be challenged to expand my body of knowledge. I strive to positively impact the community focusing on removing barriers to access for under-accessed and under-represented communities, and collaborating with those we serve to develop relevant and meaningful experiences. I particularly enjoy and value serving as an arts education mentor to staff and interns that are new to the field, and supporting the development of youth voice through work with teens, like our newly formed Youth Council. I recognize what a difference experienced professionals made in my own development and it is an honor to encourage and nurture the next generation of citizen artists.
Arts education is at the center of my personal life as well. My husband, an urban planner, has a degree in design with his work clearly reflecting the aesthetics of a trained artist. As parents, when selecting the type of environment where our two children would learn, we proactively sought schools that intentionally included arts education to support comprehensive development for children. Our 11-year old daughter is an excellent student and athlete, and was recently accepted into a talented and gifted visual arts program. What excited us most about this program is not only the training she will receive from professional artists but the additional emphasis on entrepreneurship, college and career readiness, and giving back to the community. Our 9-year old son is a child with autism spectrum disorder who is strong academically academically but struggles with social interactions and peer relationships. We have observed the power of music to help him focus and provide him with a voice to express his emotions and ideas positively. Music has given him the courage to perform in front of others and demonstrate confidence and musical skills that others are often surprised and delighted to see and hear. As a Girl Scouts leader, I have incorporated arts education into the curriculum for our young ladies to support their leadership and expression skills, including introducing the girls to professional artists as role models.
Arts education has not only impacted my life—it permeates every cell of my being. I am honored to share and learn with peers locally, nationally and internationally about the power of arts education to support meaningful lives for all citizens. After all of my years in the field, I have learned that arts education is part of a continuum of lifelong opportunities, formal and informal, and ultimately helps us to connect inter- and intra-personally. I look forward to many more years of being impacted by and impacting arts education.