Thursday, October 30, 2014

Michael Garcia - How will the humanities help lead America toward a brighter future?

Michael Garcia is President and CEO of the Duluth Children’s Museum and he retires at the end of 2014 after 10 years in this position. Garcia has dedicated his career to the arts and humanities and their importance in the education of every child. He has provided consulting and volunteer services to numerous cultural institutions across the country. Garcia lives in Sawyer, Minnesota.

I cannot comment on the importance of the humanities without paying tribute to my high school humanities teacher, Wayne Slater. As a student at Roosevelt High School in Virginia, Minnesota, I enjoyed two semesters of English electives in survey courses on the humanities. Mr. Slater brought life to the slides, records, and writing during those affluent years in public education. I, for one, benefited from his passion for teaching.

For many of us growing up in remote areas of America the concept of travel even to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, much less the National Gallery or Prado Museum, was only a dream. Typical of that time, I did not see Lake Superior just 55 miles south until I was 15. Imagine that today if you can.

However, growing up in relative isolation, exposure to the humanities in its many forms helped shape and define who I was and what I would ultimately do in my lifetime. From my parents came a love of music through the DECCA hi-fi system that bellowed out the sounds of Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, and other great jazz artists. The fantastic proscenium stage in our high school was where students honed their skills for the state student one-act play competitions or the school musical. I was inspired by slides of the Monet Water Lilies and The White Girl, which I eventually visited years later at the National Gallery. The humanities provide vision, hope, and aspiration for all and we must not take this for granted.

Growing up in a household of severe domestic violence, at a time when there were no shelters and a code of silence and secrecy was the community norm, theater arts gave me the personal outlet to imagine a reality outside of the confines of my experience. Playing a role in the student play “The Man in the Bowler Hat,” with my name on a program and footlights and a follow-spot, I had a context for creating an alternative reality. This allowed me not only to survive but to thrive.

For some, in moments of deepest despair, an element of what we collectively recognize as “the humanities” provides a life-line that is responsible for providing hope to hang on. And yes, in spite of the violent environment that haunts me to this day, I am fortunate. I did survive, and I have made a lifetime out of advocating for the arts and humanities. We cannot shape the future without looking at the past. The humanities offer the best pathway for understanding history and our collective past.

Many say “these are desperate times” or “our children are at risk.” While I do not disagree, I believe that these are “different times” and that every child is a potential “child at risk.” Assuring access to active participation in the humanities is one of the best investments we can make for our children and the future of our society.

1 comment:

  1. There were many great teachers at that time and I was remiss I. Not mentioning Tony Turk as well. MICHAEL GARCIA