The Arts Give us a Social Conscious

Posted by Mary Dell Erba, Sep 14, 2017 0 comments

Admittedly, what first made me fall in love with ballet was the idea of tiaras, tutus, and pointe shoes. What kept me in love with dancing as I grew older had nothing to do with glitter. Today, what drives me as an arts advocate is the social conscious I gained through my own arts experiences—believing that all children, in all schools, deserve the same opportunities I had growing up.

My dance experience taught me discipline, perseverance, and sacrifice; how to invest myself in my art form. The rewards gave me a joy beyond measure. Dance has always completed me, and you’ll likely get a similar response from anyone who grew up dancing. And for the record, I did also get to wear some pretty great tiaras and tutus.

I was able to find my passion for dance because I came from a family of artists. I was encouraged to explore new artistic opportunities even when they weren’t a part of my school day. I never took a dance class during the school day. To me, arts education was always my music class, art class, and the afterschool rehearsals for our musicals. Because of this, I was conscious of how expensive dance training is. Tuition is only one part of the cost; you also have costumes, shoes, and, yes, tiaras, to add into the equation. I was fortunate that when I was old enough, my studio director allowed me to teach the younger classes in exchange for my tuition. Incredible, right? And when I got to college, I was accepted to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County as a Linehan Artist Scholar where I was able to study dance and, well, anything I wanted, under scholarship.

You’ll see a theme emerging by now—I was lucky.

When I went to college, I learned for the first time that some schools actually offered dance during the school day. This surprised me even though I was a graduate of both a private and public school by this time! While I knew how much support I had been given to pursue my love for dance, I gained a humbling awareness of how unique my situation had been. I became committed to turning my passion into my purpose to study inequitable access to arts education and prepare myself to become the best advocate that I can be to be sure that every student has the same opportunity that I was so lucky to have. I went on to pursue my Master’s degree in Public Policy through an accelerated program offered at UMBC—all those years of scheduling after-school dance instruction, teaching, rehearsals, while managing my school work, prepared me to complete two majors and a Master’s degree in five years.

Currently, I work for the Arts Education in Maryland Schools Alliance, which is the only arts education advocacy professional organization in the state of Maryland. AEMS advocates for equitable access to arts education for all Maryland public school students. We also coordinate professional development for teachers and administrators in an effort to create the space to advance arts education in our state. Thanks to my arts education, I am able to work for an organization that I love and shares my purpose.

And yet, I can’t help but wonder, how did I get so lucky??

Equity issues are deeply rooted in and infiltrate our society. My understanding of equity issues in arts education has given me a context to understand inequity in a broader sense. It brought to light the impact of socioeconomic status, race, geography, and how equity is different than equality. My arts experiences nurtured a social conscious that otherwise I may not have developed and allowed me to see so clearly that my experience was a privilege.

This is why the arts are so important, and this is what will keep me advocating for arts education.

It’s essential that we raise the next generation to understand equity issues, to have empathy, to seek creative solutions, to balance competing interests, and to have the grace of our inner ballerina while doing so. It’s imperative that we recognize our privileges in life and understand how we can use our advantages to benefit society as a whole.

Because of arts education, I believe we can do this.

Through arts education, we will.

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