Kids Take a Stand on Having Arts in School the Getty Center, Hosting 'Kids Congress,' Leads a Push to Reintegrate Arts Education

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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 art education. "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 them. 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 curriculum. 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 Floridians. 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 students. …

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