Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Save the Art Department!

I was both disgusted and saddened this week to learn that the Lakeville school system that I once attended as a 7th through 12th grader is talking about cutting the art department due to budget cuts.  Not trim, but completely cut.

Things like this make me furious, not just because art is at the core of my career, my passion, and my life, but because it is yet more evidence of the pure ignorance and lack of respect that the art and design field receives from the general public...those who interact with artists' and designers' output nearly every moment of every day.  So many people have no idea that artists can enter very well respected and well paying careers.  And part of that problem, is that the schools themselves, designed to prepare children for life after school, don't show respect for this field.  Music and the arts always seem to be the first thing that school boards cut when money is tight.  These school years are when it is most important to get this message across...when young kids are at the age where they are exploring their own natural gifts and passions, and making decisions about their own careers.

Not all artists are "starving."  And not all artists only make paintings.  I could go on and on about the subject, and if you are a designer yourself, chances are you've come across these scenarios in your own life and are as frustrated as me.  One of my high school art teachers reached out to my family in hopes that we could write a few words to the school board in support of the art program.  I've copied my letter below...if any of you fellow artists or designers out there would care to add your own arguments for the art department, feel free to comment, or email me for an address where you can send a letter to everyone on the Lakeville school board!

Dear Lakeville School Board Members,

Nineteen years ago I entered the Lakeville school system through McGuire Jr. High as the awkward “new girl” in the 7th grade. I was one of those kids who was always picked last for teams in gym class.  From 7th grade on, I was bullied and picked on throughout much of the rest of my schooling.  However, one thing enabled me to hold on to my sense of pride, accomplishment, and self-esteem, and that was art. 

As a kid who earned good grades but was not the greatest in sports, I DID excel in the arts.  Art class was my one solace that got me through the school day.   When I walked through the door to my art room, I was entering MY world: my escape from the teasing and bullies...the one area of the school where I could stand tall, stop looking over my back, and do what I did best…where I could be myself and I was GOOD at it.  As I became engulfed in my projects, I was able to block out everything else, boost my spirits to get through the remainder of the day.  I learned to find pride and self esteem through my own inner gifts, not by cutting other people down.

So what about AFTER high school?  What is the big deal about art, anyway?  Don’t artists just make paintings that hang on the walls of stuffy museums, where only the elite art critics can afford them and interpret the meaning behind them?  Art adorned walls are not among Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, so we really don’t NEED art to live, do we? After all, most artists are “struggling” or “starving,” right?  That is what so many people believe, but these people have no idea how many careers stem from art and how it impacts EVERYONE on a daily basis.

So many schools offer huge scholarships for their local sports stars.  The Lakeville Sr High School art department pulled together a $200 scholarship, which was awarded to me my senior year.  The work that the art department put into raising that money meant more to me than any big donor’s contribution could. I went straight on to college where I majored in Graphic Design for a couple years, ultimately graduating with honors from The Ohio State University with a bachelor’s degree in Industrial design.

Industrial design is one of the many, many highly respected and even well-paying professions that people don’t realize that artists can enter, and many don’t even realize exists.  Industrial designers play a part in the creation of nearly every physical object created.  They design everything from the car you drive to work, the desk you sit in, to the pen in your hand.  They design the shoes that your basketball players wear, and the helmets that protect your football players’ heads. So far in my career, I have spent time designing everything from products themselves, to the graphics that represent them, the packages they are sold in, the store fixtures they are displayed on, and the overall retail environments they reside in. Today I run three of my own successful businesses, all using my artistic skills. But I am only one small example of a where art classes can launch a Lakeville student.  I am also a mother of two, and I know for certain that if the art department were cut entirely from their school, we would take them elsewhere.

Art classes give to creative students what sports give to athletic students. Art, to an artist, is just like any field to someone who is passionate about it…it is an enormous part of what defines them.  And when you send a message that art is expendable, you send a message that they and their future success too, are expendable.

The thought that a creative and artistic student could enter and exit the Lakeville school system without ever realizing their full potential is devastating.  Not just for the student, but for the community as well.  I hope that for the sake of your students’ futures, you will strongly consider continuing your art program in any way possible.

Thank you for your time and consideration.


Gretchen Fleener, Class of 1997

1 comment:

  1. Gretchen -- I'm so very sorry to hear this, especially for your sake. I've seen how your art has touched people's lives (mainly through your face painting business) and I also feel it is very important to allow other creative children the same avenues you had as a middle and high schooler. I hope that your letter will make a difference!



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