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  • Writer's pictureKathy Coudle-King


Updated: Apr 13, 2021

Once upon a time . . .

They say that after surviving a massive health scare people will make huge life-style changes: They’re kinder, more generous, and shift their priorities from selfish pursuits to celebrating family, friends, nature. This lasts for about 5 years.

That’s how long it takes, on average, for people to revert back to the way they lived and thought pre-crisis. It seems to have taken barely a year for local school administrators to forget what their lived experiences have been over these Covid months.

In addition to the sourdough and banana bread loaves, those of us who were fortunate to work from home, or unfortunate to be furloughed, spent the extra time at home by immersing ourselves in the arts.

Over the last 13 months we have binge watched shows on Netflix, Amazon, HBO, and subscribed to Hulu, Disney+, and Peacock. In other words, we consumed copious amounts of storytelling.

  • We put together umpteen puzzles, the images designed by visual artists – painters, photographers, graphic artists.

  • We altered our mood with music: Rock and Roll, Country, Blues, Jazz, Rap, Hip Hop, Classical.

  • We – okay, some – took virtual tours of the world’s great museums and streamed professional performances.

  • We watched as professional singers serenaded exhausted health care workers as they left hospitals after long shifts of caring for people who died without family surrounding them.

Yet, when it came time for Grand Forks Public School administrators to make cuts, at the top of the list were the arts. As Gomer Pyle would say, “Surprise, surprise, surprise.”

If the pandemic has not taught us that the arts are not dessert, not an afterthought, not non-essential – than nothing ever will: Not the reams of research that show the link between music and mathematics success, not the volumes of books that demonstrate the connection between creativity and critical thinking, nor the infinite personal testimonies (my own included) that prove, without a doubt, that the arts not only KEEP kids in school but keep them ALIVE.

We do not know what the new school year will bring. We hope to see children return to school full time – to return to “normalcy,” but as we have said for 13-months, we might just have to be ready to “pivot” on that. There will be a major transition, and anxiety, already high for far too many, may increase for students as they return to the classroom after a year and a half of online learning. Will they be able to duck into the art room to take a breath? Find solace in the music room? Immerse themselves in personal expression during school time? I truly hope they find their oasis as I did in theatre as a fifteen-year old after a major disruption in my life. What we know for sure is

  • Elementary students won’t be enjoying ArtWise, a 32-year old program that introduces art history, art processes, and critical thinking, all taught by professional artists.

  • School libraries – those temples of storytelling – have had their budgets cut in half, so there will be no new books for a kid to crack open and breathe in the wonderful fragrance of fresh paper and ink. (If you’ve never experienced the joy of being the first to borrow a book, there’s still time – just not next year at GF Public.)

  • Music programs their older siblings have enjoyed will be reduced. How much is not clear to this writer at this time.

  • Students who show exceptional learning abilities will be on their own to accelerate or stagnate.

  • Good teachers, really good teachers, who make maybe a quarter of what some administrators do, will be without work. (Oh, don’t worry, it’s not “many.” Just ones who deliver programs kids actually care about.)

After 13-months experiencing firsthand how the arts transport and inspire us, and numb our pain, the GF School Board voted 6 to 3 to cut the arts and so many other programs that directly impact not just kids, but their families, and our community. Joy is contagious. Art programs bring joy.

School admin and Board members were clearly upset last night to proffer this reduction plan, and they asked the public to understand that they had to make cuts, or they would not be able to make payroll come October. That is a stunning statement, and clearly one we all understand. But then they went on to say there will be some 6 million more cuts next year. Wait -- didn't they repeatedly tell us they made these cuts to the arts because there was nothing else they could cut? Hmm.

Why start with the low-hanging fruit if you’re going to have to take down whole trees next year?

Why not start by reducing and freezing admin salaries and position hires?

If there are more cuts to come next year, shouldn’t the adults feel the pain first and not the kids?

And they lived happily ever after? Stay tuned.

But keep the lights on, folks. There be monsters under the bed and they bite.

Writing Challenge: How have the arts gotten you through -- continue to get your through the pandemic?

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