Kids need art.
That's the message that the Getty Center, a private
foundation fostering appreciation for the visual arts and
humanities, is sending as it prepares to open to the general public
on Dec. 16. As its final splashy pre-opening event, the Getty
Education Institute (GEI, one of five institutes making up the
center) recently hosted a three-day "Kids Congress on Art."
With the aim of allowing youngsters to express their own
views about the importance of art in their education, the congress
involved middle-school delegates from all 50 states (and a Japanese
Army base) along with adults active in the arts and in support of
"We tend to make a lot of decisions based on what we think's
important," muses Leilani Lattin Duke, director of the GEI. "A lot
of times we forget to ask the kids what they think."
A number of children came from schools currently without arts
education, but many were articulate about what the arts meant to
As Florida eighth-grader Shelly Petrequin puts it, many
children have to choose between band, sports, or art. "Most of the
kids never have any art at all," she observes quietly, but adds
with conviction, "and they're so important! The arts tell about who
you are, about what's really going on in the world, and they help
people understand each other."
Indeed, when the institute conceived the idea for the
congress two years ago, it asked schools across the country that
wanted to participate to each prepare a banner that would
illustrate values or qualities of its community. The aim was to
illustrate the value of arts being integrated into a school
Thousands of schools from all over the United States vied to
be chosen; the final entrants were chosen randomly. After the
opening congress ceremonies, the banners were hung along the tram
path leading up the hill to the Getty Center, where they will
remain throughout the center's first year.
South Dakota delegate Lacey Hunter says the experience of
gathering information as her school prepared the banner changed the
way she saw her community. "We took a lot of walks and usually
you're just rushing and you don't see things, but we slowed down
and actually looked around."
The banner for Shelly Petrequin's school, Lecanto Middle
School, depicts the endangered local manatee, an animal that
provokes much discussion about environmental issues among
Vermont representative Kyle Thomas takes it one more step,
saying that the arts are actually more practical than a lot of
subjects he is required to take in school. "You don't use a lot of
those other things, but you'll always use what you learn in art."
As for many of his schoolmates who don't see the value of
arts classes, Kyle is equally pragmatic. "That's their choice, but
they should at least know what the arts offer."
Actor John Lithgow echoes ideas expressed by many of the