Archive for April, 2011

“If you’re in an arts program, it keeps your mind occupied and keeps you on a positive train of thought.”

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

Our last testimony came from Claire Schwadron, Director of Project Youth ArtReach of Class Acts Arts. Here’s what she said about Project Youth ArtReach’s work with incarcerated youth:

Good Evening.  My name is Claire Schwadron, and I am an arts administrator, art teacher and 23-year resident of Montgomery County.  I am director of Project Youth ArtReach of Class Acts Arts. I am here to thank the council for its on-going support for the arts, and in particular, for the council’s funding support of the Arts and Humanities Council.

Many of us know the power of art to touch lives, but art also has the power to change lives, especially the lives of people on the margins of society: adults with disabilities, senior citizens, homeless children, and teens at high-risk for academic failure or gang violence.

Funding for the Arts and Humanities Council supports the work I do to deliver positive intervention programs to incarcerated young people, a group of youth who are predominantly of color, poor, suffer from learning disabilities and mental health issues, live with substance abuse and violence, and feel disconnected to the greater community.

At the Alfred D. Noyes Children’s Center in Rockville and the Montgomery County jail in Boyds, young offenders – both male and female – can participate in poetry, theatre, drumming, drawing and painting workshops through Project Youth ArtReach.

Our skills-based arts programs are taught by master artists who offer youth a chance to learn new skills, to work as team, to take “healthy risks,” to share ideas and concerns, to experience positive thoughts about themselves and others and thereby raise their self esteem. By focusing on the strengths and assets of teen-agers, rather than their deficits and problems, youth have a chance to increase their cognitive, linguistic, social and civic development.

Research shows that the arts are a positive and cost-effective means of intervention in correctional settings. Inmates enrolled in arts programs “demonstrate reduced infractions, reduced racism, increased cooperation and reduced rates of recidivism.”[1]

After designing and painting a mural, it is then donated back into our community — like the one in your conference room, or the one at Northwood High School, or Wheaton Ice Arena. Through our mural projects, these youth are connected to their community, and can experience a sense of altruism – often for the first time.

I want to quote from two letters from young men at the Montgomery County Correctional Facility:

“In jail, you’re around people that were doing things they shouldn’t have been doing.  You feed each other negative ideas.  But if you’re in an arts program it keeps your mind occupied and keeps you on a positive train of thought.”

“I have been incarcerated for 17 months and during that time I have participated in both of the mural painting programs . . .  I have found that these programs have provided a wonderful means by which to express myself in a highly constructive and creative manner . . . it is a great relief for both the mind and the soul.”

Arts programs are efficient, cost-effective and can have a great impact on the lives of traumatized and estranged young people.  Most incarcerated teens will return to their communities, and to the streets. Arts programs improve their chances for success in life.

I urge you to maintain the level of funding for the Arts & Humanities Council as recommended for the FY12 budget.

Thank you.

[1] Susan Hill, “This is for Anthony Beard,” in Teaching the Arts Behind Bars, ed. Rachel Marie-Crain Williams (Boston: Northeastern University Press, University Press of New England, 2003).

After this testimony, Council President Valerie Ervin spoke very positively about the mural in the Council conference room. “Whenever we have the opportunity to use the room with that amazing mural, which is so powerful, every time I see it I just cannot tell you how proud we are to have that here…We are reminded of what it is that you do for the youth and how powerful that is…we’re here talking about schools, but the forgotten youth in our community are what you all uplift, and we really appreciate that.” Go Claire!

“In order to meet the demand for innovation in the marketplace, we must continue to teach the skills of imagination in the classroom.”

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

Our second testimony on April 5 came from Mark Drury, Vice President of Business Development for Shapiro and Duncan, a Rockville-based mechanical contracting company. We met him last year, when we produced the IGNITE! Conference on Transforming Business With Creativity. Here’s what he had to say about the role of creativity and innovation in the workforce:

Good evening President Ervin and honored Councilmembers:

Thank you all for the great work you do every day for the citizens of this County and for your perseverance and effort in long days like today.

My name is Mark Drury, Vice President of Business Development for Shapiro and Duncan, a 35th year Rockville mechanical contractor. We employ locally 435 individuals who help support their 435 families putting a lot of meals on the table every week.

We take a great deal of pride in the workforce we assemble and the quality of the work that they do.  Our workforce is extremely diverse and includes a broad range of skills; abilities; and levels of training and education.

When we are hiring for any position we look at qualifications but the differentiator in whether or not the position is offered is for the most part based upon an evaluation of that individual’s attitude toward life.  Are they confident? Do they take pride in their work? Are they problem solvers? Do they work well in a team environment? Those who can present those attributes are most often offered a spot on our team.

Through in-school and after-school programs, the arts and humanities sector nurtures creativity and imagination in our youth and these experiences foster the development of the abilities and characteristics that are so valued in our business: innovation, perseverance, team work, creative problem solving and the ability to entertain new possibilities thinking outside of the box.

We believe that creativity is one of the most important leadership qualities and that a creative workforce is better prepared to break with the status quo of industry, enterprise and revenue models, and that innovation is a “crucial capability.”

In order to meet the demand for innovation in the marketplace, we must continue to teach the skills of imagination in the classroom.

As citizens of this great nation we are concerned that America, a historic leader in innovation, is falling behind as it devotes less attention to developing the essential skills of imagination and innovation. All around us matters of national and international importance cry out for creative solutions, from saving the Chesapeake Bay to containing the nuclear crisis in Japan.

We provide innovative solutions to complex and demanding construction projects in this area everyday.  We know how critical the creativity of our workforce is to our success, so we constantly search for that as an attribute which separates an individual from the masses and ask that they join our successful team. We see firsthand how creativity fosters tomorrow’s innovative workforce and how the spirit of entrepreneurship is characterized by boldness, risk-taking, and, above all, creativity.

We know that you have difficult decisions to make in the coming weeks as you finalize the FY12 Operating Budget and balance County expenses and revenue.  We understand that cuts must be made and that they must be across the board.  We ask for your continued support of the creative sector in Montgomery County ensuring the ready availability of a creative workforce for businesses in Montgomery County which helps maintain our competitive advantage.

Thank you for your time, your patience and your understanding.

Updated December 6, 2011: Support the development of the 21st century workforce by contributing just $12 to AHCMC’s 2012 Overture! Your donation will support AHCMC’s work in supporting arts integration residencies, capacity-building workshops and other services for Montgomery County’s cultural community and creative workforce.

“The arts and humanities are a good public sector investment.”

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

On Tuesday night, Montgomery County’s arts and humanities community came together to meet and greet County Councilmembers at the Advocacy Potluck and to support our three speakers at the public hearing. The public hearing had an an incredible turnout (more than we had ever seen before!), so if you weren’t able to grab a seat, we’ll be posting the testimonies here.

Our first speaker was our very own Suzan Jenkins, CEO of AHCMC. Here’s the written testimony she submitted:

Good Evening. I am Suzan Jenkins, CEO of the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County and a twenty-two year resident of Rockville. I begin my testimony this evening by simply saying Thank You.

Thank You for your past support for funding the arts and humanities in previous Montgomery County Operating Budgets.

Thanks for considering support of the FY12 budget recommendation which includes a 15% decrease in funding for arts and humanities grants.

Given the severe financial climate in the County and the nation, we appreciate that all areas of the budget are under close scrutiny. We understand that by making tough choices in this budget year, County Council is paving the way for a more secure and prosperous future.  And in a severe recession, perhaps government is even asking why the arts and humanities should receive funding when there are so many other pressing needs? Well, the answer is simple.  The arts and humanities are a good public sector investment.

Here are six reasons why:

#1. JOBS! Over 2800 jobs in Montgomery County that can never be outsourced. The arts and humanities sector puts people to work.  Not just artists and scholars, but electricians, marketers, technicians, teachers, designers, carpenters, parking staff, caterers and workers in a wide variety of other trades and professions. Like other industries, the staff we employ pay mortgages, local taxes, and purchase goods and services right here in Montgomery County.

#2. The arts and humanities sector is a magnet for business. The Montgomery County Department of Economic Development’s web page notes that “…with our world-class conference and performing arts venues …it’s easy to see why Montgomery County, Maryland is “The SMARTBusiness Location.” Our sector attracts companies that want to offer their employees and clients a creative climate and an attractive community with high amenity value.

#3. The creative sector attracts a highly-skilled and desirable workforce. Companies’ decisions about where to locate their businesses often are influenced by factors such as the ready availability of a creative workforce and the quality of life available to employees.  Certainly the County’s burgeoning biotech industry is looking for that creative workforce to give their business that competitive edge. The most desirable high-wage jobs require employees with creativity and higher order problem solving and communications skills.

#4. The creative sector increases a community’s prosperity as well as its quality of life. The arts: make neighborhoods attractive places to live, work and play; help to develop, redevelop and revitalize blighted areas and strengthen both commercial and residential housing markets. This is evidenced in our three Arts & Entertainment Districts – Bethesda, Silver Spring and soon, Wheaton. The creative sector fuels the tax base, the economy and enhances property values.

#5. Return on Investment. Right now, today, the arts and humanities industry is pumping over $52 million annually back into our economy through direct expenditures on everything from paper clips and cans of paint to employee compensation ($29.7 Million), to contracts for services and supplies uniquely spent by this sector.  For every dollar the County gives AHCMC in grants, arts and humanities organizations match it with an additional $14.26 in city/state/federal/ donated and contributed income.

#6. We innovate. We leverage significant private and public investments to deepen our impact.  The Nonprofit Energy Alliance, a partnership with Nonprofit Montgomery, Greater Washington Interfaith Power and Light, the Nonprofit Roundtable, and the Department of Environmental Protection saves its 26 participating organizations annually about $250,000 in fixed utility expenses, allowing organizations to reduce expenditures on electricity and free up resources for their core missions while significantly reducing their carbon footprint.

There’s no doubt about it, Montgomery County’s arts and cultural resources are an economic asset. The creative sector provides jobs, attracts investments, and stimulates local economies through tourism, consumer purchases, and tax revenue. Perhaps even more significantly, the creative sector prepares workers to participate in the contemporary labor force, create communities with high appeal to residents, businesses, and tourists, and contribute to the economic success of other sectors.

I urge you tonight to continue to recognize the arts and humanities in Montgomery County as your partner in economic recovery and thank you for your continued support.