ArtsLink: BOE Vote Proves Grandma Was Right - With Arts, "You Can't Get There from Here"

By Jason Young on April 01, 2013 from A&E Blog via

My grandmother had some crazy expressions.
She was a remarkable woman that I got to share 29 years of my life with. She had a major impact in my development as an individual throughout my adolescence and into adulthood. Interestingly enough, I don’t ever remember her being young. However, consistent elderliness aside, she continually amazed me with her memory and her eloquent and witty use of the English language.
The phrase that has been sticking with me lately has been one she used to love to quip when giving directions: “You can’t get there from here.”
It has become a go-to when referring to the humorous fact that in order to get from Bridgeport to my in-laws’ home in Monroe County, we actually have to leave the state of West Virginia and venture into Virginia only to return to the state to visit my wife’s parents. Obviously, we can’t get there from here.
I was invited to a Harrison County Board of Education meeting last Tuesday night as a representative of the theatre program at Bridgeport High School. A proposal was being made to the BOE to allocate $48,000 of the $3.3 million excess levy surplus to high school and middle school theatre programs, specifically to assist with production start-up costs like royalty and rental fees.
The proposal called for $3,000 per show to be given to each high school in the county that produced a show, with a maximum of two per year, and $2,000 per show to be given to each middle school in the county that produced a show, with a maximum of one per year.
Since the BHS program produces two high school shows and one middle school show a year, we would have been eligible for $8,000 worth of funding next season.
So, two days after wrapping up a 38th season of theatre at BHS that cost us right around $57,000 to produce, that was paid for by every man, woman, and animal (literally) involved in the program busting every body part they possessed to raise money and sell tickets, I went to the Kelly Miller Building to speak in support of the proposal.
It is worth mentioning that I have a major character flaw that makes my chosen profession very difficult at times.
I hate asking people for money.
I think my disdain for charitable solicitation may come from my lack of personal wealth. I like to think of myself as a philanthropic guy, and I want to help everybody with everything but am normally unable to help anyone with anything. So, then it becomes difficult for me to ask others to do that which I am not doing myself. My grandmother (and yours too probably) would call that “practicing what you preach.”
However, I had no problem standing in front of the BOE because I got to brag about a program that I am swollen with pride for and that I have dedicated a lot of time and energy into building over the last five years.
A program that produces three major musicals a year, twelve total since I have been there. A program that over the last four seasons has sent 12 students to college on scholarships as either theatre majors or minors. A program that has the highest standard of artistic integrity while not sacrificing its educational goals. A program that is rooted in a deep tradition but is constantly striving to explore new things and expose its students and the community to the freshest fruit of the industry.
I was also very happy to tell the Board of Education that because we receive no financial assistance for our productions, we are forced to operate a professional theatre model in an educational theatre setting. We can never choose a show to produce based upon what the students will learn or experience during the production process; all of our show selections must be based upon the “can we sell it” model…which has very limited educational value.
After hearing from me and a representative from Robert C. Byrd High School, the BOE voted down the budget proposal 3-2. Mike Queen and Gary Hamrick voted for the support, while David Sturm, Doug Hogue, and Al Gorrell voted against it.
I think a huge opportunity was missed. The Board of Education in Harrison County has never been labeled as supporters of the arts. They have almost no presence at art events throughout the county. And yet, delivered to them on a silver platter was the opportunity to take from a $3.3 million surplus a meager 0.02% and make an investment in, a gesture of support to, and a dedication to the theatre arts within their high schools and their middle schools.
All hope is not completely lost though.
Unfortunately, the county theatre artist position held by Gregg Brown for the last 22 years is being reduced in force by the central office. This will save the county upwards of $50,000. It remains to be seen whether any of that money will be reinvested in any arts program or if it will just be absorbed into the general budget.  If you are so inclined, the BOE website will lead you to contact information where you can suggest to our decision-makers ways they can invest that excess money to benefit the arts.
I am an arts advocate, Harrison County is my home, and I am in for the long haul. I am well aware that there are going to be bumps in every road, and hills and valleys in any quest. But today is a particularly cloudy day because I don’t really know where the theatre arts in our schools are going right now. But, I do know that if decisions like the one made last week continue, no matter where we may want to be headed, we can’t get there from here.
Editor’s Note:The opinion printed here is neither an endorsement or an indictment of the situation. The opinion is that of the blogger, Jason Young.

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