Friday, March 11, 2011

Change the World

(Stained glass window at Youthville Chapel, Newton, KS)

Kansas has had its share of tourism slogans through the years. "Kansas: It's as big as you think" is the current motto. Its precursors included "The Secret's Out," "Linger Longer," "Land of Ahhs" and "Simply Wonderful."

If Gov. Sam Brownback gets his way and chops funding for the Kansas Arts Commission, it will be no secret that our state's simply wonderful arts groups will have to linger longer at the mercy of private donors. My "Ahhs" are quickly turning to "Oh no's!"

If Brownback's budget passes, Kansas would become the first state in the nation to no longer fund arts. I don't think that's what the Sunflower State wants to hang its hat on.

I wouldn't want to be the governor. I wouldn't want to be a state legislator, looking for ways to scrimp and save and bring down the budget deficit.

But I'm afraid that if public funding for the arts is on the chopping block, it won't be long until school districts follow suit and whittle school music programs from their class schedules.

And that would be a shame. A week ago, I spent the day at the Heart of the Plains Music Festival hosted by Stafford Schools. I got a chance to support my local high school musicians and also those from my alma mater, Skyline High. Most importantly, I got the chance to hear my talented niece, Madison, perform individually and with Skyline groups.

A basketball team doesn't have the market on teamwork. Just spend a day listening to choral music or band performances and you'll figure that out pretty quickly.

I have to admire a group of high school students from Lawrence, who took their convictions to the Kansas statehouse last week.

“Art is an essential part of life,” said Hazlett Henderson, a sophomore at Lawrence High School. “I don’t know if private funding will be there.”

A Senate committee last Thursday rejected Gov. Brownback’s attempt to abolish the Kansas Arts Commission. The Federal and State Affairs Committee voted against Brownback’s order before a packed hearing room that included about 20 high school students from Lawrence.

Keil Eggers, a senior at Free State High School, said he made the trip to the Capitol because he wanted the Arts Commission funded so that “kids behind me would have the same opportunities” in arts programs that he had.

Brownback’s order will take effect July 1 unless the Legislature rejects it. The committee’s recommendation to keep the Arts Commission will next go to the full Senate. After the hearing, the Lawrence students said they were pleased with the decision by the committee.

They aren't alone in recognizing a strong correlation between quality music education in schools and academic achievement.

Madi was selected for the Kansas Music Educators Association honor choir, which was directed last month by Dr. Craig Jessop of Utah State. This guy is no slacker: He is a former director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

At the choir performance, he shared an interesting statistic with the musicians, their families and the audience.

The average ACT score of the choir kids who had taken the test was a 27. The 2010 average composite score for all Kansas students was 22, above the national average of 21.

The Kansas musicians' ACT score was 5 points higher. That's significant.

A 2007 Harris Interactive Poll of working adults indicated that music education impacted five skill areas: ability to work toward common goals, striving for excellence in group settings, disciplined approach to solving problems, creative problem solving and flexibility in work situations.

Harris Interactive Poll, 2007

I know that no one wants their great love on the chopping block. I freely admit that music is one of the cornerstones in my life. But I think cutting funding to the arts is a big mistake.

Gov. Brownback may want to reconsider. I know that Bono is no great philosopher, but I do think this particular "slogan" has some merit for the Land of Ahhs:

Music can change the world because it can change people.


  1. I'm with the Gov on this one. The tax payer is not a bottomless pit.

  2. That's why it's great to live in America: We can all express our opinions. Thanks for taking time to comment!

  3. Well written! I'm with you on the musical passion, and also with support for "the arts". But for those without the passion, the evidence that involvement in the arts is directly related to intelligence and quality of learning can not be overlooked.

  4. Thanks Marcia! I thought the statistics were pretty compelling.