Spokane is home to some fantastic writers, musicians, artists of all kinds…and some weird sisters.
This was the theme on March 25 of the latest iteration of Lilac City Fairy Tales, which is the creation of writer Sharma Shields. Shields has been bringing artistic talent from all over the area to this event for the past several years to celebrate art and life in the Lilac City. The audience was treated to some theater, music, and readings by writers and poets from Spokane and beyond.
This year, the event benefits Spark Central.
Spark Central is driven by a mission to “foster creativity…by providing learning experiences that explore the unlikely intersections between subjects, such as poetry and science or coding and character creation. Such experiences stretch the imagination, are the root of innovation, and develop the ability to problem-solve and think critically—skills essential to success in the Information Age, where the jobs of tomorrow haven’t been created yet.”
When arts programs get defunded, these cuts disproportionately effect low-income and rural students. Spark Central offers high speed internet access, programs in arts and technology, space and tools to create, and a curated book and media collection. Membership, youth programs, and community events are all offered at no charge. Spark Central is making all this happen, but they need your help.
When we look closer at what makes America strong, we find strong communities…and looking even closer we find strong people. Our strength depends on us. We make us strong. Strong children grow into stronger adults. These sound like fundamental concepts, but we continue struggling. The approach we have been taking for the past several decades favors building our physical capabilities for national defense and cutting funding for arts programs deemed wasteful. Meanwhile, our students have fallen behind much of the rest of the developed world, resulting in even deeper cuts to arts programs in schools and greater emphasis on rigorous math and science training. Yet we continue to struggle with what feels like a great communal loss. A significant number of Americans want a return to something that they feel is missing and has been missing for a long time. But what have we really lost? How can we find it?
When we lose arts training and education, we lose something much greater as a people. Harvard President Drew Faust commented on this idea:
Why study the humanities? Interpretation, judgment, and discernment will always be in demand, and they are cultivated and refined in the humanities. We learn, for example, how civilizations have varied across space and time. We come to understand that the world has been different and could and will be different again. Literature and the arts enable us to see through a new lens, to look at the world through others’ eyes. Students in the humanities learn how to think critically and communicate their ideas clearly, and those transferrable skills lead to rewarding lives and careers in every field of endeavor. (Harvard Magazine, March-April 2014)
Science is also coming out in favor of the arts. A recent study suggests that instrumental training, especially starting at an earlier age, results in long-term beneficial changes to brain structure and motor skills.
Art and literature help us become deft navigators of our own experience, teaching us how to move through this life and this world. They help us become skilled listeners and communicators. When we leave them out to focus solely on math and science, we do our children, our communities, our nation, and our world, a great deal of harm. Our students need us to act. The humanities need a protected place alongside STEM training (just like Spark Central!) if we truly want a world-class education system with the potential to produce generations of mindful, discerning decision makers to lead us into and shape the future.