My wife, Marie-Astrid, who teaches artesania (arts and crafts) at our neighborhood arts academy, sometimes dreams of discovering a hidden extra room in our home or cultural center – a place of exploration and unexpected possibility. She says that creating art is like finding an extra space inside of you – an extra dimension within which to expand beyond your apparent limits.
Marie-Astrid and I have seen many young people use the tools of arts training to open doors both inwards to themselves and outwards to the world. For these children, finding their own solutions to artistic challenges, and discovering and creating beauty with their own hands, eyes, voices and bodies, can be an experience both mysterious and miraculous.
However, most children don’t have the opportunities our students do. Many in our neighborhood do not graduate high school and many become pregnant in their early teens. My sense is that for many girls, pregnancy provides mystery and miracles in the absence of comparable options. Expecting a child gives them a sense of possibility, of hope for their child’s future and maybe a life of love with the child’s father.
Where do our teens lose the natural wonder of childhood? And who is teaching them to cultivate it?
Human beings have from birth an innate sense of exploration that parents and educators can nurture and strengthen, or neglect or destroy. Music, dance and art are exceptional ways to teach exploration to children that are safe, fun and measurable. And they will serve them a lifetime.
Our Academy has seen autistic children learn to read because of art classes. We've heard heartbreaking and profound stories of reconciliation from grieving children while making offerings, ofrendas, for Day of the Dead altars. Silent, inward children flower to become confident, expressive and happy while dancing and singing.
The arts can put a youngster on track to becoming an engineer or scientist. We have heard the sound of young voices and bodies reviving ancestral songs and dances. And we have seen the birth of new songs of emerging composers. We have seen countless “disposable” lives turn meaningful and exceptional through dedication and commitment to the arts. Are these not miracles? Is this not a mystery in the face of darkness?
As we celebrate La Virgen de Guadalupe, let's remember the cradle of hope, invention and possibility: the human mind and its many extra rooms. And let's choose to protect and nurture this vast universe of possibility. Arts education needs be part of every child's academic education. And making art, with all its mystery, should be part of all our lives.