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Arts education is vital

To the editor:

I’m a local artist, a member of NorthWind Fine Arts Gallery as well as a member of Saranac Lake Artworks, the Pastel Society of America, and a board member of the Adirondack Pastel Society. I want to address the issue of potential staff cuts in the arts department of the Saranac Lake schools.

My husband and I are both ardent supporters of the arts. My husband’s career was and is directly involved with publishing children’s books and working with illustrators and authors. One of the overarching themes over his 35 years of working with artists is that all of them had early opportunities to indulge their passion for art, and to have instruction. It is vital that the children in our community are no less served.

This year NorthWind Fine Arts invited local school students to exhibit their work at the gallery. We have had a wonderful reception and response to the students’ art. The students who have come into the gallery have been excited and motivated.

Through Saranac Lake Artworks and other avenues, local artists have been working to bring tourists here, and to brand Saranac Lake “the arts destination of the Adirondacks.” For that we need artists, both current and upcoming. Local economic realities mean that many families depend upon school programs to nurture their children’s interests. Luckily, New York state schools are funded at one of the highest rates in the country per pupil, so we should not have funding issues, just choices to make about where to spend state dollars.

Statistics show that students who participate in arts education are more likely to succeed academically in science and math. Countries with strong arts education are more likely to produce scientists and mathematicians, both desperately needed in this country.

According to a recent Saranac Lake arts and culture study, communities with a strong arts and culture presence do much better economically. People coming into towns for shows or openings spend money in local businesses, and art can revitalize struggling towns.

Employers hire people who have great creative thinking, group problem solving and communication skills. The arts foster all of that.

The national average for participation in school art programs, per the New York State Council on the Arts, is 17 percent. I don’t know how that compares to our local average, but no matter what, it is important to have more children involved in the arts.

Art is all around us — from the design of our clothes to the sofas we sit on to the cars we drive, and to the sports logos of teams we support. No matter where you turn, an artist has designed something that all of us interact with.

I sincerely hope that our local school’s arts program will not contract, but instead afford more students the opportunity to learn something that may affect their entire life in a positive way. You never know when or from where the next great children’s book illustrator will come along, or the next great fine artist. Maybe soon, maybe here — if they have the chance!

Susan Whiteman

Saranac Lake

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