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Of Paintbrushes and Potters' Wheels

Arts training fosters the creativity the US needs to succeed economically and to help bridge cultural gaps in a nation of immigrants

THE child born today is a child of hope. In the early years of the next century, that child will join the work force, join the community, and ultimately be responsible for our world. If we teach that child to live, learn, and think more creatively through an education in the arts, we may realize a greater unity among Americans of all cultures and ages.

President Clinton said, ``The arts can help us understand each other, honor our differences, appreciate the experiences and beliefs we share as Americans.'' A paintbrush and a potter's wheel, toe shoes and typewriters are great equalizers. Art emancipates as it democratizes, for it is talent, determination, skill, imagination, and drive that make an artist excellent, not color or gender or creed.

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When we teach our children to draw, we teach them to see. When we teach our children to sing or play an instrument, we teach them to listen. When we teach a child to read and write creatively, we open a door to imagination.

Our prosperity in this country has always been based on individual creativity. In the future, we will all be part of something called the information highway. Whatever that may ultimately become, one key issue emerges from the technological revolution that is occurring in the last years of the 20th century. The big seven industries of telecommunications, software, entertainment, cable, broadcasting, publishing, and consumer electronics will be the engine that drives the American economy. The arts are the training ground and crucible for those big seven, for new ideas, new thinking.

If we do not teach the universal language of mankind, we cannot hope to give our children a complete education. If we do not encourage the imagination, we cannot hope to have creative and fulfilled children. If we do not learn the history of ideas, emotions, and aesthetics, we leave out the very foundation of the ``whole'' human being. If we invest our resources in values, in spirit, in creativity and imagination, we will build those better schools as outlined in GOALS 2000: Educate America Act.

All across the country, communities are investing time, money, and energy in their schools, renewing the notion that we are responsible for determining our children's future. Artists are important parts of arts education. We need additional artist-in-residence projects, training of professional teachers by professional artists, and interaction between a community's arts organizations, large and small, and a community's schools. And that's a two-way street. Not only should arts institutions host visits by schoolchildren, but they should provide resources - materials, time, energy, people - for the children in the schools.

We need some grass-roots heroes: artists taking these children by the hand, teaching them how to value the life of the spirit, value their own lives. Artists can be great mentors. By taking on an apprentice, an artist saves one child's self-esteem, self-confidence, and imagination, and we begin to build a new America. We can renew this country, person by person, neighborhood by neighborhood.

We owe it to the child of tomorrow to preserve and expand the network of arts that has grown in this country over the past generation. The arts institutions that the National Endowment for the Arts has helped birth and sustain can be an anchor for community life in our big cities and can serve as cultural centers for more rural regions.

Whether they are longtime fixtures of the community that preserve our cultural treasures or centers where people in the neighborhood can participate actively in the arts, our arts institutions deserve our support.

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The arts tie together the threads of our cultural diversity and unite us. You can witness America in the cowboy poets of the West, the cool sound of Duke Ellington, our energetic symphony orchestras, Frank Lloyd Wright's ``Falling Water,'' Georgia O'Keeffe's desert paintings, the collages of Romare Bearden or the migration series of Jacob Lawrence. We are summed up in Walt Whitman's ``Song of Myself,'' in the grace of Martha Graham, the mischief of Laurie Anderson, the rolling notes off a piano.

The American experience can be measured in the beat of jazz, in Toni Morrison's novel ``Jazz,'' in the lines of Allan Houser's sculpture or the rhythms of mariachi. If you want to know what if means to be an American, read the lyricism of William Faulkner or Langston Hughes, listen to the resonance of Yo Yo Ma's cello, the high lonesome sound of a country fiddle, or the blues purring from a saxophone.

Our cultural icons are the highly stylized totems of the Pacific Northwest tribes, Maya Lin's Vietnam Veterans Memorial, ``Citizen Kane'' and Willy Loman, or the memory of Marian Anderson singing freedom on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. America is young men and women capturing on film the American story. America is the Mississippi quiltmaker, the Lakota dancer, the poet, the architects of the Chicago skyline, the photographer, the teacher revealing the mysteries of the arts to enraptured children.

The arts are America.

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