Sunday, March 13, 2011

Why I Advocate for the Arts

By Audrey J. Szychulski, Executive Director

The small girl sat at the front of her section strumming her instrument with wild childish pleasure.  A bright smile shown on her face for all the world to see.  She was filled with joy from the wonders of her precious cello.

The seasons changed and the girl grew older.  She moved onto a larger more advanced orchestra with many others much older than she.  The girl now took her seat in the back of the section.  She was scared, nervous, and anxious all at once.  Overwhelming piece after overwhelming piece sat upon her stand, each of these more difficult than any she had ever played before.  But she was determined to be able to perform them all with a minimal amount of mistakes… no one’s perfect…. The pleasure of the lush, full sound of her instrument was all the reward she needed.

Years passed and the girl aged.  One bright day the blonde, still petite teenager walked into the rehearsal room; a room, like many, where she had spent thousands of hours. She took her seat now at the front of the section, a seat to be proud of, and felt a great deal of accomplishment. Since she had first sat down behind a cello, she had been through thousands of hours of lessons, rehearsals for orchestras, for trios, for quartets, with choruses, with bands, etc., concerts too numerous to count, music theory and history classes galore, learning and teaching at music camps, and had toured dozens of states and countries.  She sat there as her slender, nimble fingers glided up and down the neck of her cello and she let that bright childish smile of hers cross her face.

I hardly have the chance to play anymore.  As an Undergraduate, I went to college to be a music educator.  I wanted to give every child the chance to have the same wonderful experiences that I have had and continue to have from a life devoted to the arts.  For the about 9 years during and after college, I was mainly a self-employed musician and a private lesson instructor.  I was blessed to have students who overflowed with talent, delight, and excitement.  They understood that music was not just notes, cognitive and mechanical. Music is the joy, the pleasure, and the self-satisfaction that rewards the aesthetic and artistic soul.  My students understood that it is also about the bonds it creates between people and how it brings us closer as human beings.  I was an individual who for many years was privileged to see my students one on one on a weekly basis.  My students ranged in ages from 3 to 70.  We started by sharing music but we shared lives…  I was their confidant for their secrets, their support for aging, their sharer of new experiences, joy, grief, births, deaths, first loves, crisis, the challenging what do I do when I grow up, and just plain life and they were my greatest joys and hardships on a daily basis.  They made me a better person; they made me love music and life even more because of what they each gave to me as individuals.

I originally became an arts administrator by accident.  There was an opening with a small professional orchestra for a Manager of Education, Community Partnerships, and Operations and someone else decided to send in my information.  Oddly, they hired me.  And even more oddly when my boss announced that he was leaving for a larger orchestra they decided I should be in charge.  When I first walked into the rehearsal room of that bigger orchestra I was scared, nervous, and anxious… but I was also determined.  There were ups and downs, there was more schooling by choice (an Arts Administration Masters), there was life, economy, change, challenges, and moves to other symphonies, bigger symphonies, and to new states… What my students taught me was that I do a job not for me; I do a job so that I can give others what music gave me.  As the Executive Director of a Philharmonic, I now work everyday to give that to an entire community.

I work to serve the community, to reach new audiences, to serve the underprivileged, to educate, to help heighten an art form, to bring joy and excitement, and above all to spread bright childish smiles…

I advocate for the arts for many reasons. Yes, I know that the non-profit arts industry generates $166.2 billion annually in economic activity and I don’t understand why business minded people don’t take notice to the fifth largest industry in the United States and one that employs twice as many people as the American auto industry… and I tell politicians this often and loudly.... but I do not advocate because of those who choose to not understand. I advocate because I share a bond with the 5.7 million people who work in the arts and who, I am positive, have devoted their lives to the arts for many of the reasons I have. We share many of the same life experiences, we live and love with few boundaries, we do this for others, and we cannot imagine any other way that we would want to spend our lives. Our bank accounts will never be large, but our lives are rich and full every day.

Please, in a time where arts funding is being cut left and right, please, tell many why you advocate for the arts. -

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