As economic conditions tighten and budgets are slashed violently, the need for services doesn't magically disappear because a program disintegrates. Actually, the ever increasing void between what's in demand and what's lacking is felt with greater intensity.
Opinion editors Dave Eggers and Ninive Clements Calegari made a brilliant analogy in a recent New York Times article using the public's perception of the military. "When we don’t get the results we want in our military endeavors, we don’t blame the soldiers," they wrote. "We blame the generals, the secretary of defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff."
And the opposite it's true with current educational issues. We blame the front line.
Uncertain as to when the shift happened, being supportive of artistic efforts has also become, dare I say it, unpatriotic, citing more immediate needs as a priority and tricking politicians into having to choose one over the other.
The combination of an overall low performing educational system and a society that is fighting for its version of survival has pushed the arts onto a stool in a corner, castigated for being somewhat unpopular.
But somehow, inventiveness and creativity is still valued and those who have it, have the ability to make businesses thrive and people smile. And yet, we think this sort of creativity will just appear, even if as a society, we are not willing to nurture it and invest in it.
Conceptual age thinking should be more welcoming to artistic pursuits. in essence, it is. In practice, it has let art down.
The Houston area is filled with organizations that are doing their part to fill this void and ensure that future generations have the opportunity to interact with a field that has been part of human history and development before it was affected by the growth of economic centers and the information age. Whether it's the big four (Alley Theatre, Houston Symphony, Houston Grand Opera and Houston Ballet) or many of the medium or small size non-profits, having an education department has transitioned from being a cute little cubicle to one that provides an essential service.
Musiqa has earned a lot of respect, locally, nationally and internationally due to its artistic vision, unique concert format and because of its emphasis on education. Its founding members are faculty at Rice University and the University of Houston. Easily, they could live in the safety of academia, but they choose to get out there and get their hands dirty.
Their efforts earned Musiqa a third consecutive grant from the National Endowment of the Arts last year for its “Around the World with Musiqa” educational program, and that's no easy task. Using multimedia strategies and first-class performers, the program succeeds in inciting curiosity for world cultures.
"The arts are a necessity and not a luxury," Anthony Brandt, composer and founder of Musiqa, explained.
"They offer the greatest means for accessing our inner lives that humanity has ever developed. It's impossible to sustain families and build communities without the tools the arts give us for self-exploration and self-expression. On top of that, brain science is showing that thinking itself is a creative act. Birds sing one song their entire lives.
"Human infants start making up new sentences from the minute that they speak. Thus, creativity is an inherent part of every human being and should be nurtured in everyone."
Musiqa responded with the creation of another large scale educational program, one that dissects the creative process of composition and draws direct links to other disciplines. "Musiqa Remix" is highly interactive, a task that actor Sean Patrick Judge and soprano Karol Bennett are charged with implementing, helping students gain confidence and self-esteem.
"I sing a virtuosic phrase and the kids can sing it right back to me," Bennett explains. "They feel excited when they see how much their voice can do and what great ears they have. They can 'compose' their own sound for the others to repeat, to become a little more adventurous and less shy."
Curious to see what Musiqa's education programs look like?
To support its educational initiatives, Musiqa is hosting its yearly fundraiser, MusiqaFiesta, from 6-9 p.m. Thursday.
Part concert, part fiesta, part silent and live auction, and part iPad 2 raffle, tickets for the affair are $125. The mini-concert features Latin-inspired jazz tunes performed by soprano Karol Bennett and pianists Tali Morgulis and David Harris. Click here for more information.