I recently asked Adam Berger, arts director for Arizona Conservatory for Arts and Academics (ACAA), why he feels the arts are beneficial—both in our schools and in our communities. His answer: Art for art’s sake.
The arts, insists Berger, need no justification.
Berger recalls the 1990s movement touting “the Mozart effect”—the positive impact listening to music has on the human brain. Berger doesn’t doubt that the arts yield tangible benefits, but he does tire of people who single out the arts as something needing more justification than other areas of human endeavor.
Berger’s also a big football fan, so he might not pose the question this way, but his comments did leave me wondering—when is the last time we had to justify the value of sports in our schools and our society?
In addition to serving as ACAA arts director, Berger teaches high school voice and musical theatre at the Phoenix charter school now enjoying its seventh year teaching 6th through 12th grade students with an interest in the arts. (I’ll share more in another blog about Berger’s take on the FOX television series Glee, which follows the adventures of a fictional high school glee club.)
Students at ACAA, who number about 375, take both academic and arts classes—with seven arts areas to choose from: visual arts, dance (ballet, modern and jazz), voice, drama, piano, guitar and percussion. Berger notes that while there are more girls than boys at the school (not uncommon for art-focused charter schools in Arizona), classes like guitar and percussion increase the school’s appeal for male students.
Their drama department does three productions each year (with tickets on sale the week prior to each show). Last fall’s high school play was “Twelve Angry Jurors” and the middle school play “A Little Princess” will be performed near the close of the school year. Rehearsals are now underway for “Little Women,” the all-school musical.
I asked Berger about what makes ACAA unique, and he had a long list—the fact that they are “open-minded and like to try new things” was at the top. He also raved about their focus on technique (rather than solely arts performance), their fun and even “outlandish” approach to the arts, their relatively small class sizes (no more than 28 for academic classes), and their offering of arts at all levels (from beginner to more advanced).
Some students choose ACAA because they are planning a career in the arts—yet many, observes Berger, simply “love being involved with the arts.” For Berger, that’s a good thing. He believes that the arts “bring students out of their shell” and “encourage them to think on other levels.” It’s all about “the artistic maturity of the heart and soul.”
“Anybody,” reflects Berger, “who gets an arts education benefits by having a more interesting way of looking at the world.” There are many ways to learn, he says, and the arts are among them. It’s especially important that children are exposed to the arts in school because they aren’t always exposed to them otherwise.
Berger is heartened to know that all their students, whether or not they choose a career in the arts, will be lifelong listeners, watchers, buyers and supporters of the arts. They’ll help spread the word that art is a prism for seeing the world in more than black and white.
It’s critical, Berger says, that we all continue to share this message: art is necessary. When art disappears, it leaves a hole—almost like a death, really…