By the age of seven, Ona Neumann of Baltimore had already reserved a treasured spot in her life for art.
“What do you do, child?” Ona’s father, Gregory Neumann, affectionately asked his little girl, who is now a sophomore at the Baltimore School for the Arts (BSA).
“I do art and I play — that’s what children do,” she replied.
Today art remains central in Ona’s life as she immerses herself in both the visual arts and traditional academic classes. She was among 135 students from the nationally recognized public arts high school who recently came to the U.S. Department of Education headquarters in Washington, D.C., for the opening of the school’s visual art exhibit, The Development of the Young Artist, which featured student performers, as well.
Ona created three of the exhibit’s 50 works being displayed at ED through April. Also on hand were students’ families, BSA teachers and administrators, state and federal arts educators and leaders from Maryland, Virginia and D.C., and ED staff. Performers included jazz musicians, vocalists, string musicians, and an actress.
The school provides 400 students with intensive pre-professional training in the arts in conjunction with a rigorous academic curriculum. Graduates go on to the most selective arts and academic programs nationwide, and achieve prominence in theater, opera, film, television, music, dance, visual arts and writing. Alumni have, for example, performed with the Dance Theatre of Harlem, played in the Philadelphia Orchestra, sung in Carnegie Hall, appeared in the Broadway production of “Hamilton!”, recorded, produced and performed music for and with Jennifer Lopez and Jay Z, appeared on “American Idol,” and had exhibits at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. Other graduates apply the focus and discipline they gained at BSA to professions including finance, architecture, computer science, teaching, law, and medicine.
Ona grew up in an artistically inclined family (her mother teaches and is a potter), but other BSA students began their artistic pursuits less auspiciously.
Chris Ford, BSA’s director, told the story of Richard White, once homeless, who hobbled into the school with a broken hip, sustained in a football accident. He was carrying little else but a plastic tuba. Unfortunately, he was a week late for auditions, but Ford could not ignore the boy’s drive and spark. Richard was admitted. Today he is an associate professor of tuba and euphonium at the University of New Mexico and principal tubist for the New Mexico Philharmonic.
So how does one develop a young artist? Ford described six qualities that must be nurtured.
- Curiosity — “the driver of life-long learning.” BSA wants “to connect our kids’ interests to their learning in a meaningful way.”
- Confidence — “the willingness to take a professional risk, knowing that it may not succeed, but that one can recover and move forward.”
- Expertise — “is at the core of learning an artistic medium to a high level — whether it be oil painting or script analysis.”
- Collaboration — “the ability to work effectively with others, who may have different skill sets or working methods.”
- Individual purpose — “what will you, as a unique person add to the conversation in your field or beyond it?”
- Global perspective — “Baltimore is known as ‘The City of Neighborhoods.’ Which is great, but we need to get our kids beyond the neighborhood and into a strong place in a worldwide creative scene.”
Monique Chism, deputy assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, cited longitudinal research supporting an arts-integrated education. Students engaged in arts overall have higher grades, particularly in high school; have fewer discipline problems; increase their odds of graduating from high school; enroll in competitive colleges at greater rates; and, among low-income students and English language learners, are more than three time as likely to earn a bachelor’s degree.
Nancy Paulu is an editor and writer for the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.
All photos are by U.S. Department of Education photographer Leslie Williams.
The Department’s Student Art Exhibit Program provides students and teachers an opportunity to display creative work from the classroom in a highly public space that honors their work as an effective path to learning and knowledge for all. To visit the exhibits or for information about exhibiting, contact Jacquelyn Zimmermann at Jacquelyn.firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit the Student Art Exhibit Program at https://www.ed.gov/student-art-exhibit/.