Posted by: ultrapopdesign | July 20, 2009

Why art matters

at play in Clocktower Square

When I was in school, going to the art room was a treat. I wasn’t very articulate as a kid, but drawing and painting allowed me to express my thoughts, dreams, and aspirations in ways that words could not. When I was at home, I drew paper dolls and designed elaborate costumes for them. I created a newspaper about my neighborhood, and reported on all the dogs that lived there and when their birthdays were. I was always writing and drawing, so it seems like a natural progression that I grew up and became a graphic designer, working in newspaper publishing, and later, interactive design. Without art in school to keep me interested and motivated, I might not have chosen this life path, so I owe arts education a debt a gratitude for all it has taught me.

Art in our schools is as essential as English or math or social sudies. Art helps students observe their world around them and envision what’s possible. It teaches young people to experiment and learn from their mistakes, and it encourages critical thinking and decision-making. Students who participate in arts programs often perform better in other courses when provided with a well-rounded, engaging learning environment that encourages creative thinking, visual and verbal communication skills, and problem solving. Yet each year more school districts reduce or even eliminate funding for art and music education in school, seeing these programs as superfluous or non-essential to a young person’s education. But children need more than just the basics. Not only is art therapeutic, it is its own reward — and it’s fun. When we de-prioritize education in our society, we all feel its deleterious effects.

A few months ago I reached out to my teacher friend in Paro, Bhutan to send a care package. I was expecting to send a few things for her classroom that she might not easily get her hands on, like sticky notes or glue sticks, but when I asked what she needed, she replied “Anything and everything!” Her class had but two dried up markers, nothing more. That just wouldn’t do. I immediately reached out to my artists friends and asked for their discarded old art supplies, and before I knew it, I had accumulated a half dozen pairs of scissors, colored pencils, dozens of markers, and bags and bags of beads and sequins. But in the back of my mind, what I really wanted to do was go back to Bhutan and teach art to this class of high school students. I just didn’t know how to go about it.

“How much money do you need to go there and teach for a year?” my friend Flower Diamond asked. We were on the phone, but I could hear her scribbling away on her end. Flower has a knack for sussing out my ideas without me actually verbalizing them.

“I need no more than $15,000 to get there and back, buy art supplies, and cover my living expenses for one school year.”

“That’s not very much, when you think about what it costs to live here.” And she was right. For a fraction of what it costs me to live in San Francisco, I could send myself to Bhutan and teach art. Two weeks later, I had written a proposal to the principal at Yoezerling Higher Secondary School in Paro detailing my idea — to start a pilot program at his school, with the ultimate goal to expand this program across as many schools as possible.

I knew the local school district could never afford to sponsor me in full, so I have set out to raise the funds myself via Brushes for Bhutan.

Over the next few blog posts, I’ll tell you more about the program, and how a country like Bhutan can benefit from offering arts education for their young people.

Until then, I’ll leave you with this quote by Alain Arias-Misson:

“The purpose of art is not a rarified, intellectual distillate — it is life, intensified, brilliant life.”

And if you’d like to see more photos of Bhutan, visit my Flickr album.

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