By Julie Petry, MFA
There is oppression at the federal level and a political lack of vocal support for the arts in the United States. Art IS essential for developing the thinking wo/man, the reflective wo/man, and the compassionate wo/man.
We need more public figures discussing the importance of art for this country and showing its value for citizens of all ages. Art teaches us it is okay to talk about things that might be tough. Art teaches us that individual expression is valuable, and that each voice deserves this platform. Art teaches us to be accepting of differences – new sounds, shapes, colors and views. Art unites the world. Every culture has music and dance, and one does not need to speak the verbal language in any country in order to enjoy these other elements. These are precious tools that have been around since the beginning of wo/man, and serve as reflectors of human values and cultural values. Having access to arts in the public schools should be of equal importance to math, English, or science, yet the arts are always the first elements on the budget chopping block.
I teach Dance History every year at Bloomsburg University, and it is one of my favorite courses because I have students who have never been exposed to theatre or dance. Annually, I teach the story of Hitler, who during his years leading the Third Reich, wished to eliminate the expressionistic Modern Dance form entirely from Germany. He saw its potential as a tool to develop the thinking man and worried it could provide a way to unite the underdog or promote revolutions. I fear our very own government is on track for such outcomes. By eliminating the NEA – which provides government funding to the arts, artists, and free thinkers – and removing funding for K-12 arts programming, we are not far away from Hitler’s path. We all must work together to keep the arts funded!
Most importantly, I teach my young artists the value of expressing themselves without fear. I have mentored students creating dance and theatre pieces on being sexually free, fighting gender norms, fighting and confronting the oppression of Black Americans, bullying, and more. I teach students that this platform of the arts is a place for them to explore their power, and confront whatever it is they see that needs addressing. I am attempting to help solve such problems in America by creating new generations of fearless artists with strong, empowered voices who can further articulate the importance of the arts and use them for social change and justice. I dream more and more educators will take advantage of the opportunity we have to help folks re-direct their lives for the better.
I dream my work and voice will continue to further reach the national platform. I would love to collaborate on a piece that will get people continuing to think about why they are so afraid of differences. We need to continue creating platforms that show that our power as a country comes through celebrating differences. I would also love to become a well-known advocate and speaker at women’s conferences, on education circuits, and perhaps do a TED Talk, or testify at the congressional level on the value of the arts.
For our future as a country and a human race, I dream of putting the ‘united’ feeling back in the United States. I dream the arts will thrive, be seen as the revered tool of expression that they are, and that more voices will rise up, becoming passionate, fearless sources of creative fire. May this fuel us ever forward toward becoming an empathetic and compassionate planet where all living elements thrive.
Associate Professor of Theatre and Dance at Bloomsburg University, Julie Petry has spent her entire life in the arts, exploring the Creative Fire. She relishes each day spent with her uniquely created Family Tribe and representative mascot – the amazing Zelliecat!