November 13, 2001

Making a big play for the arts:The first published Art and About column

Filed under: Art and About Changing the World — admin @ 3:42 pm

I got an email a couple of weeks ago from an Acalanes band mom letting me know that professional trombonist Steve Turre, an Acalanes alumnus, was visiting music classes at the high school and at Stanley Middle School. The only other information she gave me, besides the fact that Turre also plays the conch shell, was that he played football at Acalanes and earned a football scholarship to Sacramento State.

This email caused me to muse that I have never received a press release telling me that an NFL player was visiting a PE class, but he was also a scholarship musician in college. In a sports story, I guess you don’t have to play up the music angle.
The relationship between sports and the arts has fascinated me since I started writing the arts page for the Sun three and a half years ago and it seems perfect fodder for this first column. Getting to do an arts column in the Sun is the realization of an idea I had shortly after taking over the Lamorinda arts beat when I learned there was space for only two arts articles every week, due at that time to a recent restructuring of the paper. The People in the Sun section was gone and now Arts and Leisure was the back page of the sports section. In my mind, I had only two chances a week to fire up the community about the myriad artistic and musical talent in this community, if they happened to turn over the back of the sports section.

I am not going to bash sports. I’ll admit, I didn’t play sports when I went to Acalanes. My team “sport” was singing in the Acalanes Choral Ensemble where, yes, we did compete as well as give concerts. But I am an avid sports fan who regularly attended professional and college sporting events in the Bay Area while growing up. My heart races when Olympic time approaches. When I became an arts writer for the Sun, however, I felt myself suddenly resenting the attention given to sports in this community, the amount of calls we would get on Wednesday morning from people who had read the Sun sports pages and either agreed or disagreed with something. I can count on one hand when we have gotten an interactive call regarding an arts story.

I absorbed the pain of every person who called to tell me about an art or music event at a local school and practically begged for coverage because the student body, the public and the administration didn’t devote the time and energy to getting audiences to an arts event as they did to filling the bleachers for a Friday night football game. I have had grown men cry during interviews as they relate the pressures of getting funding and audiences for a school music program that rivals many college programs. I have spoken with art teachers who run astounding visual art programs barely acknowledged by their school principals. And I have spoken with school administrations who claim to support the music program but expend little energy to give their choirs an acceptable rehearsal space.

Over time, I have evolved to become less emotional about the relationship between sports and the arts in Lamorinda, but no less passionate. I now understand that a child’s involvement in both sports and the arts help to develop a whole person. I even find it poetic now that the Sun arts section is on the back of the sports page — two sides of the same coin.

But I also know that the bull horn to promote the arts has to be a lot bigger than the one that promotes sports. The scores from high school football, basketball, baseball, volleyball, soccer and water polo game get reported in the Sun religiously. But did you know the walls of the music rooms at Acalanes and Campolindo are filled with awards for excellence from decades of musical prowess? You probably didn’t because there isn’t room in the Sun these days to report even annual triumphs like Unanimous Superior ratings from the California Music Education Association. This is a huge accomplishment and there are ensembles at Lamorinda schools who achieve this honor every year. By the way, 11 years ago, the Acalanes Choral Ensemble won the Pacific Basin International Choral Competition in Syndey, Australia. We competed on the stage of the Syndey Opera House. Upon our return, all we got was a picture in the Sun. If it had been on my editorial watch, this achievement would have absolutely warranted a feature story.

I know the imbalance between sports and the arts is part of American culture at large. I also believe that Lamorinda can be better than average America. In fact, I’ve staked the future on that. This Monday, my family moved back to Lafayette. My husband, also a Lafayette kid, and I want to raise our 10-month-old son in a culturally, intellectually and neighborly environment we feel is unsurpassed anywhere. Things are good in Lamorinda right now, but we think they can get better. That 10-month-old enters the school system in four years. It’s time to get to work.

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