Dec. 10, 2014
John F. Kennedy once said, “If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him.” I agree with him wholeheartedly.
I remember the day that sentiment hit home for me personally. My then-17-year-old daughter, who had been researching colleges and programs and figuring out what she wanted to do, came to me and said, “It might not be the smartest or most stable thing to do, but I don’t want to be 50 years old regretting that I never tried to make it in musical theater.”
How could I argue with my spirited and wise kid who could see at a young age that if you give up on your vision or your dreams too early, you will regret it? She’s a smart kid who could have studied just about anything in college. She knew she could follow a traditional path toward a career that offered easier job opportunities, stability and financial security, but she also knew that wouldn’t make her happy. I had to set my talented artist free to follow her vision.
That vision ended up taking her to a prestigious conservatory in Scotland to study musical theater. I had other parents question why I wasn’t pushing her into something with more security like nursing or engineering. But I had to set my artist free. I truly believe art enriches lives and creates better societies and those with the talent should be encouraged to develop them and share them with the world.
What would life be like if no one studied the arts? Wouldn’t it be miserable without music to listen to, art to gaze at or performers to watch? I can’t imagine not wandering through museums, spending an evening at the theater, watching a movie or listening to music. It all enriches my life tremendously and I respect and appreciate anyone dedicated to the craft.
There’s plenty of research that says studying or participating in the arts can enrich other areas like math or business skills. Researchers from MSU even published a study linking participation to patents and businesses launches.
Everyone has probably heard that studying music helps with math. MSU’s Community Music Schools in East Lansing and Detroit built their programs on the knowledge that exposure to music dramatically enhances learning, life skills, cognitive development, social awareness and problem solving.
Those are great and important things, for sure. But sometimes I wonder why everyone rushes to prove that studying the arts makes us better at other things. Why aren’t the arts allowed to stand on their own as a beautiful and integral part of this world? Why are the arts the first thing cut from schools? Why can’t those who study the arts be as respected as those who choose more traditional paths?
Former president of MSU Clifton Wharton, and his wife, Dolores, understand the value of arts in education. Read the FACULTY VOICE: Honoring the Whartons, by Jere Hutcheson, a professor of composition in the College of Music, to learn why there’s a special place in his heart for the Whartons.
Thanks to the Whartons’ generosity, MSU is home to the Wharton Center for the Performing Arts, Michigan’s largest performing arts venue that brings the best Broadway shows, the finest classical musicians, unrivaled dance companies and an A-list of high profile performers to mid-Michigan.
It’s also home to the MSU Federal Credit Union Institute for Arts & Creativity at Wharton Center, bringing the exploration of the arts into the community. One of their programs that brings Broadway stars to conduct workshops for kids definitely played a role in not only my daughter’s interest in her field, but in preparing her to land her acceptance into her university program.
While my daughter’s vision took her across the pond, there are many students at MSU following their own artistic path in theater. Watch the video in the STUDENT VIEW: School of Choice, to learn about the MSU Department of Theatre, where students can choose many different directions in theater.
The last two weekends I had the pleasure to watch my daughter perform on stage at a local theater as Cinderella. Of course I loved listening to her sing and watching her act. But one of the best parts was watching her after the show when children could meet the cast. Watching wide-eyed kids approach her with wonder and awe, asking for autographs, posing for pictures, hugging her and even falling down on the floor in excitement drove home the importance of the arts in this world. I watched her tenderly talk to children with special needs and watched those children light up. I watched their parents, with tears in their eyes, appreciate what my daughter was giving to their children.
As my daughter heads off to the Big Apple to follow the next path in her vision, I couldn’t be prouder of her. I know there will always be a need for artists who light up our world. As a Spartan, I’m also proud that MSU has always supported artists and their training—be it theater, music or visual arts. Spartan artists will always do their part to nourish the roots of our culture.
Photo of the MSU Auditorium by Derrick L. Turner