Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Why Art?

A new art exhibit, “Remember Where You Come From,” goes on display soon at Wilder Center.

Why do we display art? Our first and fourth floor “galleries” provide venues for rotating exhibitions by local artists. What value does art bring to an organization dedicated to improving the quality of life in our communities, especially for the most vulnerable?

You may have your own answer. Mine appears below.

Art brings variety to our senses. Typically, it decorates our environment with beauty. Sometimes, it confronts us face-to-face with ugliness. An environment with art stimulates and provokes any or all of our senses and creates impacts on our bodies and minds.

Art expands understanding and imagination. A book about poetry, which I read long ago, described a good poem as “a new door to an old, familiar room” – perhaps an apt metaphor for all art. Art brings new perspective on everyday personal and social issues, thus opening our eyes to new ways to improve our lives.

Art liberates. Artists rarely confine themselves to convention. They push the boundaries of current thought. They frequently question the legitimacy of common cultural beliefs and practices. Totalitarian governments typically have great disdain for artists; our freedom very much depends upon and reflects our art.

Art is therapeutic. The artist finds fulfillment and meaning in creation, which provides renewed energy to overcome physical, mental, social, and spiritual obstacles in life. The viewer can find fulfillment and meaning as well, either by interpreting the artist’s messages or by recasting the artwork in light of the viewer’s experiences and perspectives.

Art creates connections among human beings. A formal opening for an exhibit convenes many people. On a daily basis, interaction occurs by happenstance – two or more people happen to arrive at the same place, looking at the same piece of art; they engage in conversation (about the art or about something else).

The purpose of the Amherst H. Wilder Gallery is to present works of art that foster connections and conversations that broaden and deepen our understanding of ourselves and of one another.

That statement succinctly indicates why we feature art in our building. We should never doubt its importance to our mission. As we end this first decade of the 21st century, social and economic trends have created a collision between increasing community needs, but stable or declining resources to meet those needs. Solutions for our communities, our nations, and our world require creativity, imagination, and energy. For our part, we have the goal to convene and engage members of our community to work on the issues we face. Art inspires, supports, and motivates us in that endeavor.

(We cordially invite you to attend the formal opening and reception of our newest exhibit – on Thursday, March 4, from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. at Wilder Center.)

Friday, February 05, 2010

More Thoughts about Education

On Thursday, at a seminar to advance an initiative to develop “Learning Campuses” in Saint Paul, several speakers offered comments which stimulated my thinking:

Patrick Bryan, Principal at Jackson Magnet: “Educational success is not just academics. It is academics plus resilience, the ability to set goals, self-confidence, curiosity, a sense of meaning …” He suggested the motto: “Every kid, every day, after school.”

Mary Kay Boyd, Board member of St. Paul Children’s Collaborative and long-time educator: “Systems don’t always understand what’s happening at the ground level – for example, they don’t always understand all the things that families do to educate their children…We can’t just transplant models that worked somewhere else and expect them to work in Saint Paul. We’ve got to create what works for Saint Paul.”

Kathy Lentz, Greater Twin Cities United Way: “Learning is a continuum. It starts prenatally. It includes reading by grade 3, good out-of-school activities, academic and involvement activities. We have to align and integrate all that we do for all of children’s lives.”

Nan Skelton: “We really need to plan for 2020, not for what we see today. It’s important to understand all the trends, not just those we associate with education.”

John Mueller, St. Paul Federation of Teachers: "This spring, at our conference, there will be many opportunities in the program for teachers and community partners to dialogue."

Clearly, more people recognize that learning occurs over time; it involves a combination of formal and informal experiences. All of us are both learners and educators. It will be exciting to see what develops.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Obstacles to College Access - One Solution

“Any country that fails to encourage and develop the talent in each individual through its public school system will suffer greatly, because the quality of a nation depends on the collective wisdom of both its leaders and its citizens.”

Bruce Alberts, the Editor-in-Chief of Science Magazine offered that thought – addressing an issue of major significance for our nation and others: A college degree has increasingly become significantly important – not just for individuals who aspire to better jobs, but for our society which needs a competent workforce. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 80% of “growth occupations” will require a college degree. Yet obstacles to learning, for low income students and students of color – whose numbers have increased greatly – have impeded many of these young people from achieving their potential and reaching college.

So, I took special note of recent news from Admission Possible. This Saint Paul organization identifies low-income young people with talent and motivation and assists them to earn admission to college; it plans to expand to as many as 10 cities. Both this program and the issue it addresses merit our consideration.

Wilder Research evaluated Admission Possible in the mid-2000s. Our objective, systematic look at the program revealed very positive results.

During the time of our study, the program enrolled high school students from families with incomes in the bottom half of family incomes in Minneapolis and Saint Paul. About 90 percent were youth of color. These students face many barriers to attending college, beginning at a young age. Nonetheless, 100% of program participants who graduated from high school in 2005 received an acceptance from at least one college; 91% actually enrolled in the fall. Among African-American participants, 98% enrolled in college, compared with 85-90% among other racial/ethnic groups.

No single strategy or type of program will eliminate the achievement gap or remove all the obstacles to educational success for low income students and students of color. However, this is one approach which can deliver positive results for at least some high potential young people.