Challenge Day Reflections: Arts & Culture, LT'18

This "Challenge Day Reflections" was written by Ben Phillips, LT'15. Here's what he had to say after the Challenge Day:

"The Arts & Culture Challenge Day was a great reminder of how crucial arts are to bringing about change. I was inspired by the class members who took the day as a personal opportunity to take steps to change their community. James Miles led a fascinating discussion around improving education by weaving youth culture into the curriculum. There are many challenges for the arts in our region, namely around funding and support, but I was left excited and optimistic by the passion and enthusiasm in the room."

For a list of speakers and the day's objectives, please refer to the agenda

Arts Minutes

It was universally true that the three Arts Minutes (each 15 minutes long) would have been great Arts Hours! These artists highlighted the tremendous impact arts and culture can have in our lives.

  • Peter Ali, Native American flutist, played his handmade flutes from a variety of cultures with an intensity that inspired the class.  
  • Sandy Cioffi, Creative Director of fearless 360°, engaged the full attention of the class with her presentation of Virtual Reality. Sandy presented the case for why VR supports social change and improves the lives of people.
  • Daemond Arrindell, Poet and Teaching Artist, delighted the class with two original spoken-word poems. His work with creativity in prisons led him to say, "You have never seen theater until you've seen theater for a prison population. They don't know the rules of theater, there's no polite applause. It's unrestrained like in Shakespeare's time. People stand up and shout 'You can't do my man hamlet like that!'" 


Site Visits

The class split into eight groups and visited KEXP 90.3 FM, Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP), Pottery Northwest, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Seattle Children's Theatre, Seattle Opera (photo from this site visit below), and Pacific Science Center. 

The class was inspired by diversity inclusion programs, overhauled hiring practices, and efforts to pay close attention to performance choices that are inclusive. Leaders spoke to the fundraising challenges inherent in a growing city, in which arts may or may not be a priority to new residents. 

Seattle Opera 1.jpg

Arts and Culture in Our Lives

The class was asked to bring in a picture of an art or cultural experience that moved them deeply. They were encouraged to keep in mind that almost anything they touch or interact with has been designed by someone and is influenced by culture. Some examples from the class: 

  • Switchfoot's song " Dare You to Move" inspired one class member to run for U.S. Congress.
  • Food connects one woman to her family through breaking fast at Ramadan.
  • One class member told a story that during the holidays when he was growing up, he often wondered, "Why couldn't Santa look like me? Why couldn't he be black?" This inspired him to track down a Christmas statue of black Santa so he could redefine the experience for his children.

Interesting fact: Seattle is the top place in the country where people self-identify as artists, and surprisingly, Microsoft is the top employer of musicians, visual artists and actors (by money spent). 


Making Space for Culture

Panelists: Randy Engstrom, Director, Office of Arts & Culture, City of Seattle; Mari Horita, President and CEO, ArtsFund; John Merner, Director, Seattle Center Productions. Moderator: Tim Lennon, LT'15, Curriculum Committee


The panel discussed our region's civic involvement in the arts. They delved into questions, including: What do we have and how did we get here? What leadership did it take? Who benefitted at each juncture and who didn't? How does this connect to equity, funding, and access? Where is the support for arts & culture now?


Equity in the Arts

James Miles is the Executive Director at Arts Corps, a youth arts education organization that works to address the race and income-based opportunity gap in access to arts education. He brought our attention to a lack of representation in our schools, noting that it's predominantly white teachers in front of black and brown students.

James emphasized that when culture is taken out of school, students don't perform as well. Instead, we should meet youth where they are. "Everyone should be reading Teen Vogue. Look to the youth for the truth. You might not like Jay-Z and Rihanna, but as an administrator, you should know who they are." 

James' successes include raising test scores by 20% points when a Wallace Foundation grant allowed teachers to add hip hop to the curriculum. In an inspirational closing, James remarked that "opportunity and freedom to express yourself are essential to a full and meaningful life."  

Read this short interview with James Miles