To continue our focus on Arts and Culture, we invited Monica Koechlein, Executive Director of the Richmond Symphony Orchestra, to share her thoughts on arts and youth. Here is her take on the subject:

It happens all the time. I’m asked what makes Wayne County so special. My answers vary slightly, but references are consistently made to our recreational areas, our institutions for advancement, our deep-seated history in countless areas, and always OUR ARTS!

  • We are the birthplace of the first high school orchestra in the United States, established in 1900 by Will Earhart.
  • We are the smallest community to support a fully professional orchestra independent of a college with an agency-established endowment.
  • Wayne County supports the second oldest art museum in Indiana and are the only community in the United States that supports an active public art museum housed within an active public high school.
  • We are a community that was influential in the arts world. From the late 19th Century through the mid-20th Century, the Richmond Group, a collection of American Impressionist painters, worked in Richmond, Indiana. Most famous in the group is John Elwood Bundy.
  • Did you know that Wayne County is considered the cradle of recorded jazz?. In the early 20th Century from 1916 to 1934, the Richmond studio made thousands of acoustic and electric recordings, featuring blues, jazz, country, classical and spoken works. Most famously, artists included Louis Armstrong, Hoagy Carmichael, and Jelly Roll Morton. In addition, William Jennings Bryan recorded his famous “Cross of Gold” speech at the Richmond Gennett studios.

And the list goes on. It includes Murray Theatre, Nettle Creek Players, and so many others.

photo credit: Jeff Bond

How do we capitalize on this history for our youth?

As schools continue to overlook the arts, what is this community poised to do? How do we ensure our youth are raised with an appreciation for the arts and who we are as a community?

Reflecting on why art matters, there are countless benefits. One of the most influential blogs I’ve read recently was presented by the Art and Music Center of Rio Vista, California. Referencing this blog, I picked out some items that really stood out for me:

  • Art improves creative thinking and allows for self-expression. Currently, 72% of employers say that creativity is the #1 skill they look for when hiring.
  • Art improves attention to detail and focus.
  • The Art strengthens critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
  • Art creates cultural and personal connections. Children gain a greater understanding of cultural diversity. Art also helps them feel connected to one another.
  • Art instills discipline through an ongoing commitment to practice required for improvement. This leads to a greater sense of determination and persistence.
  • Art improves self-confidence. As kids develop skills and improve those skills through repetition and practice, they build confidence in themselves. Studies have shown that when children participate in art activities with peers and provide criticism and praise to one another, the feedback they give to each other builds self-respect.
  • Art stimulates the parts of the brain associated with academic achievement, such as reading and math, as well as emotional development.

“Art inspires students. It helps children stay in school, increases motivation, improves attitudes and attendance, and improves academic success. Low income students highly engaged in the arts are more than twice as likely to graduate compared to their peers with no arts education, and have a 5x lower dropout rate.”

Art and Music Center of Rio Vista, California.

Can the arts still have a place in schools?

Knowing all these benefits, how do we ensure as a community that the arts stay a prominent part of the school curriculum? Can the arts organizations continue to work together to create meaningful programming based on needs identified by teachers?

Is it possible for Richmond Community Schools to revisit a designated magnet school for the arts?

All I know is that we need to fully immerse youth in all that makes Wayne County special.

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