The 2016 New Jersey Governor’s Awards in Arts Education are just around the corner. You can join the celebration of talent, creativity and leadership on May 26 at the War Memorial’s Patriots Theatre in Trenton.
Approximately 80 students will be recognized for their exemplary work in creative writing, speech, dance, music, theater and visual arts, along with 20 educators and leaders who will be honored for their exceptional commitment and contribution to arts education.
When I was growing up, my parents schooled me about the importance of humility. I still hear a voice in my head warning me that “nobody likes a braggart and certainly no one likes an immodest winner.” Yet, when I think back to when I received the 2015 Governor’s Award for Distinguished Service last year, I can’t help but let a silly smile creep across my face. And I want to share why I will forever treasure this award.
I was sincerely honored to be recognized by my peers for doing what I love, and humbled to be in the company of fellow honorees Larry Capo, honored for his lifetime commitment to arts education, and Bari Erlichson, for her work at the New Jersey Department of Education to ensure arts education data is part of the state’s School Report Card. I continue to be moved and overwhelmed by all of the talent represented on stage that day and by the palpable pride that families and friends were feeling as they watched teachers and students receive their awards.
This kind of talent and leadership is why the Dodge Foundation is committed to ensuring that every New Jersey child, no matter their circumstances, has the opportunity to receive a sequential and well-rounded arts education. We believe that participating in the arts will help students discover their creative core, help them engage with others, and help them become comfortable with the pursuit of new ideas and the trial and error of artistic practice. They will be our future artists interpreting the world around them. hey will become nation builders and leaders. We also know that adults have the ability to nurture or quash a young person’s creative spirit, so we support ways for teachers to infuse the arts in to their teaching practice, develop their own creativity, and, in turn, spark student creativity.
I believe if you want to see these kinds of positive outcomes for all teachers and students, you have to shine a spotlight on them. The Governor’s Awards recognize excellence and achievements in Arts Education that would otherwise go unnoticed. By honoring the good work of students and their teachers, award ceremonies help families appreciate their children’s gifts and ordinary citizens to see the power of the arts to change lives.
Recognition events can also inspire individuals to push themselves to new heights and mastery. I confess, when I attended the Governor’s Awards five years ago, I was so moved by the honorees that I remember asking myself, “Am I doing my best work, reaching outside my comfort zone, and having the intended impact on others?” I didn’t make it a goal to win an award in five years, but I did challenge myself to work harder and to be worthy of the efforts of the winners on that stage.
I realize that for every student receiving an award on May 26, there are countless others who have worked hard in pursuit of their art. Many are equally talented and must be encouraged to continue to follow their passion.
We must also pay tribute to the many parents, teachers, and dedicated adults who encouraged these students, helped pave the way for them, and nurtured their talents. They too deserve to be honored, although I suppose the joy, so clearly seen on their faces, has its own reward.
Perhaps it is this awareness of all the noteworthy talent, teaching practice, and leadership in New Jersey that my parents wanted me to ponder when they cautioned me about arrogance. I realize now they did not mean I should not enjoy the recognition or not feel proud. They just wanted me to know that I was standing on the shoulders of my family, friends, and teachers.
So to all the past, present and FUTURE Arts Education awardees — revel in the limelight. You represent the creative potential and sustainability of our state. Enjoy this recognition and spread the word about the power of the arts to transform individuals, schools, and communities.
We hope you will join us for the awards on May 26 and see for yourself!
Wendy Liscow is the education program director at the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. Learn more about why Dodge funds education here. Photos are courtesy of the New Jersey Governor’s Awards in Arts Education.