Saturday, April 30, 2011

How to Walk to School redux: how I got it wrong

I first met Jacqueline Edelberg in January 2010. She came to the Kansas City Public Library to talk about her new book “How to Walk to School”. She gave a lovely talk. I had read the book a few times before she came. She and her story inspired me.

Jacqueline connected with local Kansas City notables to include then Mayor Mark Funkhouser. Mark, inspired as well, asked Jacqueline to come back again to help with his Schools First Program. Mark asked me along to listen as I’m a writer who writes about things here, including education. It was a time of hope for change. I thought I saw what could be done and a bit about how to get there. I got it wrong.

Recently, I re-read “How to Walk to School”. And this piece goes out to my fellow Kansas City artists. Food for thought…

A key element of the Nettelhorst Elementary School, in Chicago, (continuing) Renaissance is art; art that connects with children, art delivered by giving artists. Sure there’s a bevy of wonderful parents, great teachers, supportive community leaders, taxpayers, and school leaders. There’s even a French market periodically on the school grounds. Local businesses love to help out. Yes, the financials are umbrella’d beneath a healthy “.org” trust. This book is an exquisite blueprint for those searching for a design.

Back to we artists. We have an opportunity in Kansas City to connect with schools. It’s not easy, though. I’ve tried, yet not hard enough. Educators are wary of artists. Without active arts programs in the schools, they’re not used to working with us and we’re not used to partnering with them for the most part. There are exceptions in Kansas City of which I’ll be happy to discover. The Chamber of Commerce is wishing for a city-wide arts festival. You may have read about that. Anyway, we seem to have an opportunity to enrich children and their lives with art. But, it’s going to be difficult.

As an artist, you’re probably like me…living a bit more than leanly. We want to sell art, tickets to shows. We’re competing for grants and we’re downright busy doing this thing we have to do. We wish to sustain our art in some way. This education connection may not pay off financially, I know. I shared my concern with its difficulty.

I find it awkward watching a half-billion dollar performing arts cathedral being built out the west view of my window on Walnut, while to the east, this city smolders, schools closed, teachers let go, and children…well, I’m not sure how they’re doing really. No resentment for the disparity just puzzlement.

“How to Walk to School” redux, has me thinking about connecting with a city school somehow as an artist, a writer. I’m not sure where to start but I will soon. I know people have great intentions from many perspectives. I expect our new mayor will address education on his agenda very soon. What I understand now, knowing there’s so much more to understand, is that Jacqueline’s blueprint includes many elements and people with various skills and talents. I now know that as an artist there’s a place for me to assist and connect somehow.

Have a read of this book if you can. There may be a place for you in the future renaissance of Kansas City’s public schools.

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