WASHINGTON WATCH: The Importance Of Arts Education (VIDEO)

Across the country, more and more schools faced with budget cuts and an increased focus on educational outcomes have pushed arts education to the background — in fact, off the agenda. Far too many schools don’t have arts programs at all.

Debbie Allen, Jackée, Dondre Whitfield and Brian White joined Roland Martin on Washington Watch to discuss why these programs are so important.

MR. MARTIN:  Welcome back to “Washington Watch.”

Across the country, more and more schools faced with budget cuts and an increased focus on educational outcomes have pushed arts education to the background – in fact, off the agenda.  Far too many schools don’t have arts programs at all.

Here to discuss why these programs are so important [are] Debbie Allen, founder and artistic director of the Debbie Allen Dance Academy; also, Jackée – high school graduate, Houston, Texas – all I’m sayin’.  Me, too.

MS. DEBBIE ALLEN:  [Chuckles and gives two thumbs up.]  [Unintelligible.]

MS. JACKÉE HARRY:  [Chuckles.]

MR. MARTIN:  Also, Jackée, Dondre Whitfield and Brian White.

Everybody, [I’m] certainly glad to have you here.

Look, I was in the band in elementary school, middle school, high school.  My brother was, all of my sisters.  It was so important, and it really did make a difference in terms of keeping you involved and also tapping into another aspect of your mind.

OFF CAMERA:  Um-hum.

MR. MARTIN:  So, to see in Los Angeles, pulling it out of elementary schools – you see it happening across the country – you know, how does it make you feel about a generation of kids who literally will never get an opportunity to un- — to understand band and dance and –

MS. ALLEN:  Well –

MR. MARTIN:  — art?

MS. ALLEN:  — I mean it is disenfranchising millions of young people in America.  We are writing an epitaph for America.  Without arts, there is no innovation.  You know, they keep talking about China and India are going to outdistance America.  Well, we haven’t lost our footing because of our innovation:  iPod, iPad, Facebook.  The whole Middle Eastern “spring” awakening was based on that kind of Internet and connection, and that came right out of America.

How are we supposed to stay at the frontrunner of this if we don’t connect young people with creativity?  It can’t just be math.

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MS. ALLEN:  It can’t just be science.  It can’t just be literature.  It needs to be the arts.  And it is the – their right.  It is their right, and it is the right of every parent that is paying tax dollars.

Here me, children?  It’s your right –

MR. MARTIN:  Jack- —

MS. ALLEN:  — to have arts education –

MR. MARTIN:  — Jackée –

MS. ALLEN:  — so –

MR. MARTIN:  — you went to an arts school.

MS. HARRY:  Yes, High School of Music and Art.  And had I known it would be that significant for me – I was in New York – you know, living in Harlem – and I went and tried out – me and two other girls – and we had to audition.  Like, 300 kids.  And we all sang and did our thing, and I went home, and everybody was patting me on the back.  And I was like, “What’s up?” – you know, ’cause I didn’t think I made it.

And they said, “You made it.”

And when I went – she’s right.  It’s – it’s our right, ’cause it – it’s really – ’cause I was very smart – math, all of that – but that other part of me?  I – who knew I would be an actress?

MR. MARTIN:  Do- — Dondre –

MS. HARRY:  You know?

MR. MARTIN:  — and – a- — and Brian, when you talk about that, it’s amazing whenever this conversation comes up, people pu- — because folks say, “Okay.”  You know, “Painting, sculpture, dance – I mean tha-” – “that’s stu-” – “that’s really not” –

MS. HARRY:  [Chuckles.]

MR. MARTIN:  — “that big of a deal.”

MR. DONDRE WHITFIELD:  Creativity is a –

MR. BRIAN WHITE:  Creativity –

MR. WHITFIELD:  — huge deal.  I mean w- — I grew up in – in – in Brooklyn, and I – I don’t care how good a kid you are.  If you have too much time on your hands, and you don’t have something to do with all that creativit- — that creative energy, it’s going to move toward something bad, ’cause there’s going to be someone sitting around going, “You know what?  I’m bored.  Why don’t we do this?”  And then all of a sudden, all that creative energy – because it has to go somewhere – goes to something negative, as opposed to something positive.

MR. MARTIN:  Brian, you have an initiative where you’re talking about how we build up young people.

MR. WHITE:  Black Carpenter –


MR. WHITE:  — yes.

MR. MARTIN:  — B- — your Black Carpenters initiative.  And when you look at arts –

MR. WHITE:  Um-hum?

MR. MARTIN:  — and you look at them taking physical education out, then we see the result of obesity rates skyrocketing among young kids, isn’t that a perfect example of what happens – that, look, if you take this out, this will be the end result five, ten, 20 years down the road?

MR. WHITE:  Yeah, c- — I mean creativity forces you to use both sides of your brain, left and right.  When you remove the use of one side, you’re – you’redisempowering these kids.  They’re not able to creatively think in ways that they weren’t introduced to early enough.

And the biggest thing about – about the arts is it – it teaches us to appreciate what’s unique about each individual, rather than compete, because the only way to be original is to be yourself, to be unique.  And that’s what’s so beautiful about the arts.

MS. ALLEN:  It’s –

MR. WHITFIELD:  That’s right.

MS. ALLEN:  — character education –

MR. WHITE:  Amen.

MS. ALLEN:  — and it is creativity, and it is a sense of self-esteem –

MS. HARRY:  Um-hum.

MS. ALLEN:  — that is n- — you cannot put a price tag on this.

MR. MARTIN:  So, how do we, then, begin to mobilize?  How –

MS. HARRY:  [Crosstalk] –

MR. MARTIN:  — do we begin –

MS. HARRY:  — start –

MR. MARTIN:  — how do we begin to get school board, city council –

MS. ALLEN:  Well, the –

MR. MARTIN:  — other organizations right now that are actually leading the effort –

MS. ALLEN:  — yes, there’re organizations – artforla.org.  You can go online and see about them.  Or, you can just – just chime in to what’s happening with the school board here in Los Angeles.

MS. HARRY:  Um-hum.

MS. ALLEN:  Los Angeles has the s- — second largest school district in the country –

MR. MARTIN:  Um-hum.

MS. ALLEN:  — so what happens here will –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MS. ALLEN:  — reverberate.

MR. MARTIN:  It’s the same thing if you talk about music –

MS. ALLEN:  Yes.

MS. HARRY:  Same thing.

MR. MARTIN:  — in New Orleans and the impact on Louisiana.

MR. WHITE:  Here’s the thing, Roland.  It’s – it’s about parental participation.  I went to a Jewish high school, and there’s 97 percent of the parents involved in PTA.  Guess what?  We had a music program.

In Detroit, I just spoke at Cass Tech High School.  Ninety-eight percent – an all-Black school; 98 percent of the student body’s Black.  They have a music program – ’cause 98 percent of the parents are involved.

So, the first thing – the first step towards changing it is activating our community and making sure that parents understand how important it is to the development –

MS. HARRY:  — money.

MR. WHITE:  — of their kids.

MS. ALLEN:  I think that –

MS. HARRY:  We need –

MS. ALLEN:  — parents know.

MS. HARRY:  — money.

MR. WHITE:  Right.

MS. ALLEN:  We were – we had a protest the other day.  We were sitting in on the board meeting.  There were parents lining up the streets.  But you have to understand [that] in certain communities, the Black, the Latin community, those parents are working.


MS. ALLEN:  They may not –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MS. ALLEN:  — have time to go to a meeting.  That is the parble- [sic – phonetic] – problem.

OFF CAMERA:  That’s the problem.

MS. ALLEN:  We cannot disenfranchise [them], because then it becomes a very racist –


MS. ALLEN:  — proposition.

MR. MARTIN:  No, bu- —

MS. ALLEN:  So –

MS. HARRY:  We also –

MR. WHITFIELD:  We need help –

MR. MARTIN:  Ja- — J- — J- —

MS. ALLEN:  — we also have to vote to say we will spend more tax dollars.  That means if they want to add more –

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MS. ALLEN:  — to our taxes, we need to say yes to –

MR. MARTIN:  And allocate –

MS. ALLEN:  — that.

MR. MARTIN:  — it.


MS. ALLEN:  That’s it.

MS. HARRY:  — you – yeah, you’ve got to, though, balance it, to be honest with you – ’cause I used to teach American history.  And even though the arts is my number one passion, my number one passion is the future for – and the kids need to go and learn about technology, because that – you saw that special “Silicon Valley”?

MR. MARTIN:  Um-hum.

MS. HARRY:  We’ve got to learn that part, too, because that’s where the jobs are going to be.  And then we can take our money and give it to our kids for these programs, too.  We’ve got to take money from all sources –


MS. HARRY:  — to get the programs.

MS. ALLEN:  That’s connected, though.

MR. WHITE:  It goes hand in hand.


MR. WHITE:  It goes hand in hand – yes.

MS. ALLEN:  That is connected.

MR. MARTIN:  It – it is[?] – [crosstalk] –

MR. WHITE:  It’s definitely connected, because we –


MS. HARRY:  And I’m talking about cash.

MR. WHITE:  — need teamwork.

MR. MARTIN:  It’s about connection and balance, but also you’ve got to mobilize people, and they can’t just say it’s important.  They’ve got –

MS. HARRY:  They[’ve] got to –

MR. MARTIN:  — to get off the –

MS. HARRY:  — write a check.

MR. MARTIN:  — couches and begin to say –

MR. WHITE:  Well[?], they need to see –

MR. MARTIN:  — “We’re going to” –

MR. WHITE:  — how important –

MR. MARTIN:  — “be there.”

MR. WHITE:  — it is.


MR. MARTIN:  Ten seconds.  Final comment before I go.  Go ahead.  Real quick.

MR. WHITFIELD:  — I – I was going to say that this really also speaks to how we don’t feel like our voice is ever heard.

MR. MARTIN:  Right.

MR. WHITFIELD:  Even when we do have the time, or can make the time to go to some of these meetings, we really don’t feel like our voice is being to be significant enough to –

MR. MARTIN:  I’ll say –

MR. WHITFIELD:  — make change.

MR. MARTIN:  — this here.  You have churches out there.  You[’ve] got people who’re in your church choir.  That’s where you start.  Mobilize them, go to the school boards.

Debbie Allen, Jackée, Dondre, Brian, we appreciate it.  Thanks a bunch.

OFF CAMERA:  Thank you.

MR. MARTIN:  Always –

MS. ALLEN:  Thank 

MR. MARTIN:  — a pleasure.

MS. ALLEN:  — you.