Create, Communicate and Compromise

Northfield News, October 18, 2013

Northfield News: Another View, by Timothy Mahr


If ever there was a need for fine arts instruction in our schools, it’s now.  We live in troubled times, lately marked by an unwillingness of leaders to work together toward a common goal.  One only has to read the headlines or watch the news to find example after example of this disturbing and disappointing situation. Important skills appear to be missing.

We raise our children with the hopes that they will acquire the ability to negotiate what life throws at them, whether on a personal level or the civic plane.  Conundrums will confront them regularly as they struggle to find their paths.  We are all challenged daily to make decisions within situations that often don’t appear to have ready solutions.

With this in mind, shouldn’t we elevate our children’s ability to think creatively, communicate directly, and work with each other toward the common good?  The arts do just that, and more!  I add my voice to those of many others who call for more tangible and meaningful support of fine arts education, so that our students can gain empowerment and develop skills for coping with these trying situations.

Now first of all, one should study the arts simply because they are the arts.  A person’s understanding of self and society, illuminated by meaningful experiences in the arts – core, fundamental experiences – has a vital and unique value in and of itself. 

Sure, there are numerous corollary gains to be had from exposure to the arts, but these play a secondary role to what aesthetic reflection does for personal growth and edification. Research has proven repeatedly that students who receive invigorating instruction in the fine arts also perform at higher levels of accomplishment scholastically. Standardized test scores go up, along with an increase in math skills, and abilities in reading and creative problem solving.  Additionally, socialization is affirmed, while school and community spirit is elevated.

These are just a few examples, and they’re impressive.  However, they do not comprise the main reasons to support the arts within the curriculum. Throughout history the arts have been culture’s way of preserving and celebrating all things good about humanity, and in the process of their creation and sharing, our souls are challenged and nurtured.  We need the arts because they are the arts.

When we think of school, the “Three Rs” often comes to mind.  And when considering our Northfield community, we also find three letters highlighted: the “Three Cs” in our city motto describing who we are and what we are about.   Perhaps in this instance we could expand our identifying alliteration beyond Cows, Colleges, and Contentment to at least a second set of terms that describe skills and traits we hope to instill in our youth.  How about an action set:  Create, Communicate, and (dare I say it) Compromise?

I’ve been a music educator for over three decades and believe strongly in the ability of the arts to support the development of a student’s sense for the value of compromise.  In the creation and performance of artistic works, the contributions of the many participants need to be focused toward a singular goal whose identification only comes about by way of group effort and decision.  There often isn’t one correct answer for how things should go in the arts – the interpretation is arrived at through intentional compromise.  An added benefit?  Rarely in the arts are there winners and losers.

The ability to compromise – it seems to be an elusive skill, but one truly needed. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had leaders who understood the merits of compromise and sought out its benefit?

Manifested in our youth, skills involving creativity, communication and compromise provide a real hope for the future.  And there are few ways better to impart these traits than through meaningful instruction and visceral experiences in the fine arts.

So as we begin this school year, I encourage everyone to become stronger in their support of arts education in our community. 

One meaningful way to help is to become an active supporter of the Northfield Fine Arts Boosters, a fun, growing group that provides resources and promotes community support for our students and teachers involved in the fine arts. The FAB is still a young venture, having been founded in 2010.  It is looking to increase its base of support, seeking people able to make a tax-deductible donation. In the past the FAB has been able to fund many initiatives requested by teachers, as well as coordinate volunteer support of events.  More information about this opportunity can be found on the school district web site; one can also find them on Facebook at Northfield Fine Arts Boosters.  There will also be a chance to support them through the GiveMN campaign (which will include a board challenge for matching funds) on Give to the Max Day, November 15th.  Get involved – there’s fun to be had and our community will be strengthened in the process!

Timothy Mahr