What My Artistic Roots Mean to Me

Featured art Embroidery by Mana Morimoto

“So, you’re going to be an English teacher, right?” was the first response I received once I declared my undergraduate major. Want to guess what that was? Yep, English.

English teachers are a vital part of the education system, but it wasn’t my calling. “How will you make money, then?” was the next question. Years later, degree in hand, to the naysayers, I say, “I’m doing just fine in a rewarding career in writing, with a thriving passion for the arts where I’ve always been free to express myself and be understood.”

Math and science are important to society and the evolution of humanity, but so are the softer sciences. Obviously, the arts mean a tremendous amount to me, and I wouldn’t be the same person I am today without the influence of the arts in my education and my community. So this is, essentially, my ode to the arts

Confidence to Be and Do Anything

When my high school put on a musical production, I auditioned, even though I didn’t think my singing ability was anything special. This was before Glee and High School Musical. I loved reenacting various scenes from The Sound of Music and Rent, and the friends who knew my secret passion for musicals double-dog dared me to try out.

I was accepted for the chorus in The Pajama Game and helped paint sets after school. On opening night, my hands and feet were tingling, and my vocal warmups were squeaky. I felt like I wanted to be the size of a mouse if I was going to sound like one.

I hadn’t realized the lights would be shining right at us all, effectively blinding me from all but the front row, where people I cared about, who cared about me, were cheering me on. To my surprise, I didn’t squeak at all, and I spoke my few lines clearly. It was a small role but one that built my confidence up, and participation in artistic endeavors has been known to have this effect on many people.

People Who “Get You”

Before my musical debut, I geeked out as a member of drama club and an editor for the literary magazine. I know, surprise, surprise.

In drama club, we acted out parts but also were encouraged to take charge with helping others and developing our writing. For the literary magazine, my reputation for being nit-picky about grammar came in handy, but it also cemented my passion for storytelling and encouraging others to express themselves, while serving as a practical experience furthering a future career in the language arts.

I read about and witnessed the secret parts of others with honor and found pieces of myself therein. While participating in these activities, I found people who understood me in return.

Community Enrichment and Support

In high school, I was lucky enough to act as a marketing volunteer (and paint sets) with a community theater. I designed flyers, made phone calls, sourced set materials, updated the newsletter and observed the impact of the arts on community enrichment and support.

When one of our dedicated senior actors fell ill, both the community and the theater came together to do a show to raise money for his treatment. It’s always great when the community gets involved with the arts and giving back.

Improved Gaps in Core Academic Achievement

The conversation always goes back to hard science, doesn’t it? You get questions like: “How does focusing on the arts improve your core academic grades?” and “Aren’t you falling behind?”

Never. If anything, being involved in the arts improved my hard science and core academic grades. In fact, science backs up that effective integration of the arts enhances classroom learning. In 2013, initiatives to integrate the arts in classrooms were shown to either eliminate or greatly decrease educational achievement gaps for Mississippi students who were economically disadvantaged.

The arts mean everything to me. They built up my confidence and have enabled me to give back to the community when I saw how the arts improved and affected the lives of others. My core academic grades never suffered, and I knew that due to my rich experience in the arts, my livelihood and self-worth would never suffer either as a result of following my passion.

Society tends to place a huge emphasis on STEM when we’re choosing what we want to major in. Don’t get me wrong, STEM industries are so, so important. The respect I have for engineers, nurses and others of the like is very real. However, I knew that, personally, I did not have the skills or interest to succeed in those areas. Does that make me and others like me lesser than our friends who majored in Biology?

Absolutely not. In fact, unsurprisingly, acknowledging your strengths and pursuing them has been linked to higher happiness, job success and life satisfaction.

And major side note, in case you didn’t know, medical malpractice is the third-leading cause of death in the United States, preceded only by cancer and heart disease. Do you really want someone like me, who’s not particularly skilled at science, driving that risk up by becoming your doctor? Yeah, didn’t think so.

While they may be the softer of the sciences, the arts contribute very much to the individual, community and society. Make time to invite the gifts of the arts into your life.

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