The Arts Create Future Geeks

The following Friday afternoon rant represents a bit of a diversion from our regularly scheduled legal geekiness and focuses on more general geekiness. The opinions represented here are mine alone. If you agree, or disagree, I would love to hear why in the comments.
It kills me that we’re seeing school arts funding decimated across the country. It’s time for businesses to step up and say, “No, this is important! We want our future employees to have this experience. If the schools won’t provide it, then we’ll open the corporate coffers and fund arts organizations on our own!” Don’t think they’ll do that? No, I don’t either, but I think they need to for one reason. Nearly everything that makes me a valuable employee I learned by participating in Music or Theater. I bet if you look around your organization you’ll see Band Geeks and Theater Nerds are in a lot of the key positions that keep your firm running. Why is that?
The corporate mythos is one of sports metaphors and team building exercises. I get it. I’m a sports fan. It’s macho and manly. Nothing forges bonds of brotherhood and builds character and leadership like team sports. You know what? Bulls***.
I played football for one year in High School. And yes, I was awful. I started the season as a third string guard and by the last game I was in the starting lineup because the two guys in front of me were injured. On the first play of that game, I jumped off sides and the coach put the first string guard back in to play with a broken arm. Thus ended my football career. In one season, I had learned to hate my teammates, because I was constantly fighting with them for playing time. I had learned to hate my coaches, because they were demeaning and abusive. And I learned to hate myself, because despite my hard work, I was never going to be a very good football player. So I turned back to my first love, music.
If you want people who know how to work well in teams, hire band geeks. Oh, we had our rivalries and we tussled for chair positions, but when it came down to it, the performance was what mattered. Everyone, from the most talented to the least was focused on the final outcome. And the more talented would often take time to work with the less and bring them along.
If you want creativity and resiliency, hire a theater nerd. No amount of brain bashing on the field of combat can compare with making an ass out of yourself flubbing Shakespeare in front of a thousand people, then going out and doing it again the next night, and the next. And after you’ve flubbed those lines, you have to improvise with your fellow actors to find your way back to the script, all the while unable to discuss your plan of action, instead conveying meaning through subtle eyebrow shifts and hidden hand gestures.
If you want dedication, look for an instrumentalist. There is nothing like spending hours in musical meditation trying to get that one passage to sound just a little bit more effortless.
If you want the greatest project manager of all time, find a mediocre stage manager. Rolling out the latest desktop software is nothing compared to pulling together all of the individual pieces of a one man show.
I am a huge science fan. I make a living in technology. I greatly appreciate engineering and math. But the STEM courses are not sufficient to facilitate human flourishing. It’s absolutely true that the arts are important because they add to the beauty of the world, and they give our lives deeper meaning, and all of that other touchy feely crap. But it’s also true that the arts have taught many generations of business people how to work together toward a common goal, and after they fail, how to get back to work and do it again, better this time. We can’t all be on the sports clubs. If we allow arts funding in schools to be cut across the board, then we are not only failing our kids, we are failing ourselves and our businesses. The future belongs to the creative collaborators, the resilient failures, and the dedicated innovators. Without the arts, the future will not belong to us.
****End of rant.****

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Liz said...

As an orch(estra) dork, I had been struggling to put into words the many skills I have learned from my many years of practicing, rehearsing, and performing. Thanks for doing it for me.

Thomas R. Bruce said...

Stagehands. You forgot the stagehands. Everybody forgets stagehands. Hell, I've almost forgotten that I was one.

Seriously, Greg, dead-on. Thanks.

Greg Lambert said...

I usually don't hesitate in taking credit for other's work, but this was a great post from Ryan McClead. However, as a "Band Baby" in High School, and as someone that spends his entire weekend belting out power chords on his guitar (all while making his children sing along with him), the Arts and Music still play a big role in my life. I watched this year as both Art and Orchestra were cancelled at my children's elementary school (Orchestra was also cancelled in Middle School), and at the same time, there is a "new" standard test being introduced. We're trying to make everyone measure up to some imaginary yardstick, while at the same time, the corporations that we tend to think of as only wanting more Science and Math skills keeps telling everyone that they want creative thinkers who can adapt to the situation (in other words, workers that don't only know how to one task at a time and can work with others.) The Arts does exactly what is being asked of our schools… and it does it through working together to achieve a goal (the goal being "success" rather than "winning" as you might be taught in team sports.)
My oldest daughter just started High School and her favorite class is Theater. She is coming home everyday talking about how she is learning techniques that she can apply to other tasks in life (some more valuable than others… for example, she went to an all-day rock concert yesterday and said that she learned how to yell at the top of her lungs without losing her voice… thanks to her Theater teacher.) It is this love of the arts that spills over into her desire to go to school everyday and do well in the other subjects as well. The slow and steady decline of the arts in schools will eventually come back to bite us as a nation that is built upon creativity, ingenuity, and collaboration. So, Ryan, I'm with you!

Anonymous said...

Thank you! As someone who has participated in both symphony and theater (and still does!) you have articulated what I could not. My son played both high school football and played with a regional youth orchestra, and he found both activities equally valuable.

queencallipygos said...

I AM a stage manager trying to get permanent work. Could you send a copy of this to every firm in the country, please?...

Megan Stolz said...

There's a revised version of STEM that is STEAM. Guess what the "A" stands for. Seeing that made me do a happy dance inside.

We need the arts!


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