Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Arts May Be in Schools, but For How Long?

By Rebecca Friedman

Washington, D.C.- - Mary Beth Burkholder has seen school arts programs work magic. While helping with a high school production, Burkholder met a young man who was having a hard time in high school. He tried out for the school play for the first time and got the lead. He gained so much confidence from performing that he decided that he would go to college, a dream he never had before being in the show.

“It helps non-traditional learners,” Burkholder said. “It’s an amazingly positive program for them.”

She is the president of Yellow Springs High School Theatre Arts Association. A parent group located in Ohio that helps produces the high school theatre productions.

Financial issues have made school districts turn to other avenues for funding the arts. The economy is not the only problem, as the No Child Left Behind Act had a hand in the lack of funding for the arts. The act puts such a heavy emphasis on testing in English and math that there is no time for the arts.

Advocacy organizations are trying to fix what No Child Left Behind has done by fighting for policy change. The arts are an important tool for students, as the arts allows them to get out from behind their desks. School districts are coming up with different ideas to ensure that if the arts cannot be taught in school, they can at least be taught after school.

Yellow Springs is a small town in Ohio that is dedicated to the arts, but for how long it can maintain that dedication is questionable.

“We are going through a tremendous financial crisis in Yellow Springs where we project to be in the red in 2012. We decided that the only immediate cuts that could be made were in supplemental funding. Technically the arts have not been cut,” Mario Basora, the Superintendent of Yellow Springs schools, said.

“Yellow Springs is a community that really supports the arts. What we did was decided to fund some of the art supplemental, for plays and musicals, out of gate receipts instead of the general fund, which is raised from tax revenue,” Basora said.

What Basora did was go to Burkholder and her colleagues and asked them to help fund the high school plays.

“We had a real sharp decline from the state,” Sean Creighton, president of the Board of Education said. “It will probably take partnerships like that to keep arts programs like that going.” Creighton thinks the partnership between the Yellow Springs High School Theatre Arts Association and the administration is a good one. It helps show that the administration is being proactive with a “shared future.”

For the record, Creighton says that, “the school never cut anything, if we had to pay for it, we would have.”

So for now, the arts programs have been spared and the students can still put on their shows. Burkholder, however, does not know how long the partnership can continue.

“The school cut the stipend for the fall play director and two other productions. We now have to pay those services out of the drama club fund,” which come from ticket sales Burkholder explained. “This was not such a problem this year, but more and more lately, these people aren’t willing to volunteer.” The volunteers that Burkholder is talking about are volunteers to make costumes and props, both of which cost money. If people are not willing to volunteer to make props are costumes for free, then the ticket money has to go to renting costume and props. The money cannot go to hiring people to direct or help pay for royalty fees.

“In the past, we just sort of have broken even every year. Whether we can continue to do that [pay for stipends out of ticket sales], we’re not sure,” Burkholder said.

Of course the economy has not helped schools in their attempts to maintain arts programs, but the issue of cutting back on the arts all started with the No Child Left Behind Act that was enacted Congress in 2001.

“We all know that there is so much emphasis on testing,” Lisa Jaret a spokesperson for the Washington State Arts Commission, which helped to put out an “Arts Education Resources Initiative” said, “even though the law [No Child Left Behind] stated the arts were part of the curriculum, the arts were not getting tested.”

The Center for Arts Education in New York is working toward the goal of making sure that the arts are taught in schools.

“At the middle school level they need to complete two courses of the arts and it is the same in high school, “ Doug Israel, director of research and policy at The Center for Arts Education said. “The classes need to be taught by a certified teacher.”

Even though schools should be teaching the arts, there is a “widespread lack of compliance. Legislation would make compliance and we advocate to bring policy change.” A policy change would ensure that arts programs would be mandated in schools across the country.

Right now there are three ways that Israel and his team track in schools how arts programs are doing. Israel collects data from schools about spending on arts teachers, supplies and field trips.

Results show the money for the equipment and field trips has been cut. Over the past three years there has been a 68 percent decline in the money for instruments, which equal out 7.2 million dollars. Then there is a decrease of 6.6 million dollars in field trip money. There has been an increase in arts personnel, up to $31 million dollars.

The arts are important to the students and advocacy organizations recognize that fact.

“There are a wide range of benefits. It gives them an opportunity for self expression, which is invaluable especially when you are stuck behind a desk all day,” Israel said. “It gives them something to look forward to every day,”

Students who have arts classes tend to do better on the SATs and it keeps them on track to graduate. There is a 60 percent graduation rate in New York, which Israel says is lower than before.

While having the arts being taught in schools may be difficult, schools are trying to find ways to ensure that the after school arts programs are still intact. Dr. George Entwistle is the superintendent of Belmont Public Schools, located in Belmont, Massachusetts. Belmont’s solution to their arts program problem was to charge an activity fee, which varies depending upon the activity.

“It’s basically a supplement in dollars or user fees,” Entwistle said.

There are pros and cons to charging activity fees, Entwistle explains. The pro is that the program will not be cut. The con is that now parents have to pay for their children to be a part of arts programs.

To help with the fees, the schools grant families waivers, about one out of ten families ask for waivers. However, with the economy being what it is, the number has risen.

“As the economy has gotten more difficult, people have gotten more strain and stress,” Entwistle said. “No one is happy about charging fees or paying fees.”

Even if the economy improved, Entwistle says that Belmont will not be doing away with the activity fee system any time soon.

“Once put into place, it’s highly unlikely it’s going to change. Will they ever go away? I seriously doubt it,” Entwistle said.

Although Entwistle says the activity fee method was to help students, Entwistle is concerned.

“Those of us in the schools worry about, is, when do we hit a tipping point with fees? When is a public school not public?” Entwistle is concerned that the public schools will become privatized in a way, if parents cannot afford to let their children do after school activities due to the fees. “Those are the kinds of things we worry about. We haven’t reached that tipping point yet.”

In Ohio, Burkholder sees first hand how the arts change students and how they can be used as an outlet for expression. Even though times are difficult right now, the arts are important.

“I personally think the arts are vital. It was a life changing experience for them.”


Does AU Have Enough Passion to be Wonks?

By: Rebecca Friedman

Washington, D.C.- -There are two bowls of food, one placed on either side of a line. One bowl is an exotic new dish, made up of unlikely ingredients. It could taste great, but on the other hand it might not. The other bowl holds an American standard. Everyone has tried it a least once it their lives. I stand in between these two choices, wondering which one would best suit my hunger.

I am indecisive on whether American University’s Wonk campaign is a good fit for me or even if the word wonk fits within who I am.

According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of the word wonk is “a person preoccupied with arcane details or procedures in a specialized field, broadly: nerd.” That is not how American University is using the word. AU is using the word to mean:

  1. An intellectually curious person; expert in a field
  2. A knowledgeable Washington insider
  3. Someone focused on an issue and passionate about creating meaningful change
  4. American University person in the know

I just am not sure if I fit into the part of a wonk.

As a senior, I feel distanced from the actual wonk campaign. How can I feel something for a campaign that is not going to impact my life and understanding of AU? I feel more like an AU Eagle than anything else. Being an Eagle is all I have known, and part of me does not wish to just dismiss these last four years for some new kind of brand.

My brother Jordan Friedman is a high school senior and is making his rounds through college campuses. I asked him if branding has an affect on his choices and he told me “it doesn’t matter to me. It’s more important that I like it [the school].”

When I explained to him about AU’s Wonk campaign and what it means, I asked him if it would have any affect on his decision. This time he said, “it would definitely be something I would take into consideration.” This may have something to do with the fact that my brother’s top priority for looking for schools, is if they have a good program for what he wants to study (acting in this case). Maybe the future generations of AU students have enough passion to be wonks. Maybe the day where the eagle reigns supreme is gone.

This new campaign is focusing on the passion AU students have for their preferred subject matter. I know that I feel passion for my subject matter, but do I feel it enough to be considered a Wonk?

“I don’t feel that spring out of bed and go to class feeling, that’s wonk,” says Maddie Cusick, 19, a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. Cusick explains that she may not have the passion for her subject matter but “you know I do like it. That’s why you pick the major your in.”

I stand divided between the old and the new. I like being an Eagle, I always felt connected to the phrase “once an eagle always an eagle. Yet, there is something about the term wonk that just won’t leave me alone.

Throughout its definition it states that a wonk has a particular passion for a subject or an expert in a field. I feel passion for so many things, why does my intellect have to be narrowed down to one subject? Maybe instead of not having enough passion, I have too much. So I offer up this definition, in hopes that I can come to terms with the word.

Wonk: Someone who is intellectually curious and who is filled with endless passion for the world around them.


Survey Finds Festivals Brings Families Togethe

By Rebecca Friedman

Washington, D.C.- - The National Endowment for the Arts put out a national survey of outdoor arts festivals that found adults with children prefer taking their children to arts festivals rather than museums and other art related activities.

“Most people who had children at home brought them,” Carole Rosenstein one of the two women hired to write and conduct the study said.

Out of the seven case studies performed for the survey, all but one case study site said “more than half of survey respondents who live in households with children brought children to the festivals. In some cases, the percentage was very high: approaching 100% at Santa Fe Indian Market and 82% at the Houston International Festival and Lowell Folk Festival,” according to the survey’s executive summary.

Rosenstein explains that the preference over arts festivals to museums or galleries comes from a comfort level. “It is not someplace you’re going to be told to be quiet.” With an outdoor arts festival children can learn and experience the arts without being restricted by rules.

The study found that what attracted families to arts festivals was “the ability to enter and leave programs, to get up and move around, and to make noise and dance, renders festivals especially attractive to families with younger children.”

“A family could go to one event to another without being pinned down,” Sally Gifford a spokesperson for the NEA said. “The venue allowed them to pick and choose.”

“We had a ton of family friendly activities,” Danielle Piacente a spokesperson for D.C’s “Arts on Foot” arts festival said. Last year’s festival had over 10 activities designated just for children, which did not even include the live music.

Children are not the only ones that benefit from festivals. Artists benefit from having children present as well.

“It changes the relationship between the artist and the audience in a positive way,” Rosenstein said.

Children asks artists questions and they dance to the music that musicians play. Artists can see their work being enjoyed and are able to interact with their audience. Artists become enthused when they see children’s “enthusiasm about asking artists questions,” Rosenstein said. Children “don’t know they aren’t suppose to get up and dance” and so it creates a special relationship between the audience and the artist when they see the children dancing to their music.

The NEA put out the survey on October 29th and it was entitled “Live From Your Neighborhood: A National Study of Outdoor Arts Festivals.” The survey took over six months and was conducted over 1,400 festivals.

The survey “came out of a recognition that we had never done a survey about arts festivals in the past” Gifford said.

According to Rosenstein the NEA needed to conduct a survey because they helped to fund these arts festivals.

“It’s part of their mandate to know about what they fund.”


Woolly Mammoth’s Artistic Director Explores the Founding of a Theatre

By Rebecca Friedman

Washington, D.C.- Howard Shalwitz seems to be in his natural habitat. To anyone that can see him, Shalwitz belongs in the granite lobby, sitting on a hard brown chair. It would make sense, as he is one of the founders of the theatre he sits in. He created the world that surrounds him. No one would ever guess that Woolly Mammoth Theatre, located in downtown D.C. and where Shalwitz serves as the Artistic Director, came out of a need to take a year off.

“I was exhausted it was a really hard year, so I took a year off. Basically I still am taking a year. It’s been 35 years, “ says Shalwitz, 58, who is busy eating his lunch of macaroni and cheese from the Au Bon Pain down the street. His brown hair is a bit windblown from the walk to the restaurant.

Shalwitz is one who is never satisfied; he is always looking toward what Woolly Mammoth can do next. Shalwitz had enjoyed the theatre since childhood, as his family would always take summer trips to Stratford, Ontario to see shows. It was never in Shalwitz’s plans to go into the theatre, it just sort of happened. Getting Woolly Mammoth to where it is today was a journey that Shalwitz declares is a continually ongoing process. Shalwitz will be putting on his director’s hat this summer with a cast he has worked with before.

Shalwitz has gotten good at multitasking. All at once, he eats his lunch consisting of a small container of macaroni and cheese and a green apple, greets whoever comes through the front door and asks them questions about what they’re working on (How do the costumes look? I’m sure they’re great! How are the lighting cues coming?) and answers interview questions.

“It’s pretty chaotic,” admits Shalwitz crunching into his green Macintosh apple, “easily half of the job is meeting with people and talking.”

Talking has to come with the job, as everyone wants Shalwitz’s opinion. It does not matter where Shalwitz is, people have questions. In the lobby, stagehands come up to him and ask about cues, when Shalwitz is in the green room; actors want to know how they look in their costumes. Backstage where the scene shop is, those who make the sets want to show Shalwitz what they are working on. For every question and comment, Shalwitz has a smile and an answer.

It is clear that Shalwitz cares about the company he helped found. When giving a backstage tour he walks into the green room and is met with a hail of enthusiasm. On seeing cast members in costume Shalwitz tells them they look great, but quickly covers his eyes saying he wants to wait to see the full effect when he comes to watch rehearsal.

“The way I see my job is as a guardian of the institution. I share that struggle with people in the theatre,” explains Shalwitz.

Part of Shalwitz’s job as guardian and artistic director is moving the theatre in a certain direction. The direction that the theatre is moving toward now is finding plays that are intellectually big. Shows that will make the audience ask questions. Shalwitz feels that Woolly Mammoth is an alternative theatre, not a theatre that puts on shows for their entertainment value.

“We’re not trying to be Arena Stage and please everybody,” not that there is anything wrong with that, Shalwitz quickly amends. “We don’t believe in work that doesn’t challenge the audience.”

Shalwitz has seen many innovative shows happen in his theatre over the years. Full Circle, performed in the fall of 2009, had the audience trekking through the theatre. While the performers were on a tour of the back roads of Germany the day the Berlin Wall fell, the audience went on a tour as well.

There are other aspects to Shalwitz’s job besides checking on the daily movements of the theatre. A core part of Shalwitz’s job is reading scripts, trying to figure out what the public needs.

“You work with what you discover. You learn what’s on your mind from what your reading, you know what I mean?” a phrase that he repeats throughout the conversation.

This season Shalwitz has chosen plays that focus on sexuality and gender. The first show of the season was, In the next room or the vibrator play, by Sarah Ruhl. Shalwitz choose this play because it was written by a female and about female sexuality.

Shalwitz’s love of the theatre came from a strong arts background instilled in him from a young age. Born in 1952 and raised in Buffalo, New York, Shalwitz’s parents would take him and his three siblings to the Ontario Shakespeare Festival every summer for a weekend.

In high school Shalwitz would be in theatre productions. He would get leads in the school plays and musicals. Growing up a block away from the school, Shalwitz could be heard singing down the street.

“I could hear him from all the way down the block singing at the top of his lungs. When I had friends over I was so embarrassed!” says Lisa Shalwitz, 47, Shalwitz’s younger sister, laughing. Lisa is a social worker in San Francisco.

Lisa is not surprised that her brother is involved in the arts. With all the Shalwitz children growing up with theatre in the their lives and singing show tunes around the house, it seemed to make sense.

“One of us was bound to be [involved in the arts],” said Lisa.

Shalwitz was brought up in a Jewish household and though he does not practice the religion anymore, he feels that the values he was instilled with helped make him who he is today. What Shalwitz is giving to the world, he feels comes from the morals he was instilled with.

“I think there’s a strong connection between the values I grew up with and what I’m doing. The values very much come from my parents,” says Shalwitz scraping his fork against the small container trying to get the last of his macaroni and cheese. When pressed what values he means, Shalwitz elaborates with, “this process of continual inquiry,” which is exactly what he asks his audience to do when they come to see a production.

Shalwitz further explains that his parents showed him he needed to make a contribution and a difference in the world. Sitting in the austere lobby of the Woolly Mammoth Theatre, it is easy to see the contribution that Shalwitz has given.

After high school Shalwitz had plans; he would follow in his father’s footsteps and become a doctor. Shalwitz went into undergrad at Wesley College as pre-med. Shalwitz came out with a degree in philosophy and the knowledge that he was not going to become a doctor. After some decision he went to Brown University for a Masters degree in teaching. It was a hard year and so Shalwitz decided to take some time off.

At the end of 1976 he was cast in a Studio Arena production of “A Little Night Music” in Buffalo, New York. Professionals thought Shalwitz had talent and so he left for the Big Apple to try his luck in professional theatre.

“People were just very encouraging to me and I thought why not? I just did the New York thing,” says Shalwitz with a shrug of his shoulders, his forest green jacket going up and down.

Shalwitz spent four years in New York City. He lived in Manhattan and went to auditions, trying to break out in the business. During a theatre internship at the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival, Shalwitz met Rodger Brady who would be a co-founder of Woolly Mammoth Theatre. After two years of talking about the idea and concept of Woolly Mammoth Theatre, in 1978 Shalwitz and Brady wrote a manifesto of what they wanted to accomplish. After doing some productions in New York under the Woolly name, the pair saw that New York was not for them.

“We came to the conclusion we didn’t want to be in New York. It was too commercial. The theatre didn’t take itself seriously,” says Shalwitz putting all the trash from his lunch into one tight little package in his macaroni container.

After doing some searching and spending several months looking at possible locations, Washington become the home for Woolly Mammoth Theatre.

“It was an exciting time in Washington,” says Shalwitz.

Shalwitz explains that getting the theatre off the ground had to be done by a step-by-step process. During that period, it was not that easy to raise money.

“Washington was a traditional city, hard to raise money in. We literally walked around knocked on doors. Hey can we do a show here?”

The group settled in the Health and Human Services Building auditorium. It was an odd place to have rehearsals, but they made do.

“I think we must have looked like homeless people, I’m sure,” laughed Shalwitz thinking about his 27-year-old self, wearing blue jeans and a blue-checkered shirt.

Through a fellow Brown graduate, Woolly Mammoth found a home for six years at The Church of the Epiphany, located on G Street. Later, the theatre moved from the church to a warehouse on Church Street. The warehouse was small, but it suited their purposes for the time being. Shalwitz fondly recalls having to put away the benches that served as seats for the audience, every night. The goal was to be out in five years. They stayed for 13. During 1998-1999 Shalwitz looked for a new home for the theatre.

“We were at, as an institution, at a really strong point,” explains Shalwitz. The only remaining co-founder (the others had left after some years) found a space on the 7th street corridor.

Lots of people wanted that space, but Shalwitz did not want to give it up because it was perfect.

“We ended up being on the winning team. Lots of people wanted the space. I thought, lets put all our eggs in one basket,” says Shalwitz.

In May 2005, after four years of building and planning, they moved into the new theatre, which is where they are today. The building is much larger than their last one. The new building looks like a “pick your own path” story. There are iron-rod staircases all over the buildings, making it seem as if the audience can go any direction they choose. There are also multiple theatres within the one building. One theatre is a simple black box, folded chairs sit on risers. Another theatre is in the Shakespearean style; the audience sits on top of the performers in box seats that circle almost all the way around the stage. There are many different paths that an audience member can go down.

With the new space came new growth and the space has challenged Shalwitz and the rest of the team to do even better than before.

“Since we’ve moved here we haven’t done small plays. What I mean by that is intellectually small plays. There’s got to be something of substance to respond to. I’m not saying it wasn’t true before. It’s more true now,” says Shalwitz his arms spread out over the table, as if trying to make a visual of the theatre’s growth.

The next show that Woolly Mammoth Theatre is producing is called House of Gold and tackles the issue of child beauty queens. The show focuses on JonBenet Ramsey and what the adults of the world made her into.

Even though Woolly Mammoth is 31, Shalwitz still says the theatre is being worked on and improved. There is a need to always be ahead of the needs of the audience.

“It’s sort of like you’re always founding a theatre,” says Shalwitz. “I think it is a standard mantra we want to be one step ahead of the audience, but not two. It’s a needle we’re trying to thread.”

Miriam Weisfeld, Director of New Play Development at Woolly, explains that Shalwitz not only is always continually founding the theatre, but he’s always trying to see what is on the horizon for Woolly Mammoth.

“He is a restless tinkerer, he is never satisfied. He is most interested in how we can do better. We are like sharks here [at Woolly Mammoth]. We have to keep going or we die. That is from Howard.”

The next contribution that Shalwitz is going to be making is as a director. Shalwitz will be directing Clybourne Park this coming July. Shalwitz has directed this play before and the original cast will be coming back to perform this summer.

“I’m in the rehearsal hall with a lot of people I know which is pure bliss,” says Shalwitz.

There is still more for Shalwitz in the future, a world other than Woolly Mammoth. Shalwitz is contemplating looking at new projects that do not involve the theatre he founded 31 years ago. It could be the book he is currently writing about the work he has done or maybe he might go into teaching.

“I think that right now, I want to figure out how to enlarge my contribution to the world other than Woolly Mammoth,” not that it would mean leaving, assures Shalwitz.

“I guess I’m trying to figure out how to take that next step, something broader than Woolly Mammoth. I liked to figure out what that next step is.”

For right now Shalwitz is staying where his, a self proclaimed provocateur of the theatre. Always asking the hardest questions and trying to meet the needs of the public.

“I’m sort of a pain in the neck,” Shalwitz says with a chuckle.


October is National Arts and Humanities Mont

By Rebecca Friedman

Washington, D.C.—President Barack Obama declared October 2010, National Arts and Humanities Month.

“In our increasingly interconnected world, the arts play an important role in both shaping the character that defines us and reminding us of our shared humanity. This month, we celebrate our Nation's arts and humanities, and we recommit to ensuring all Americans can access and experience them,” President Obama declared in a proclamation on the first of this month.

Though the federal government has a specific department for the arts, the National Endowment for the Arts will not be doing any specific programming for this month’s celebrations.

“We are a grant maker, we don’t put on events per say,” Paulette Beete, a writer for the NEA, said. The reason being that the NEA “supports all 56 arts councils” so states that wish to celebrate this month have the money to do so.

Instead of hosting an event for National Arts and Humanities Month, the NEA is “using Twitter to put out all the different events,” Liz Stark, a spokesperson for the NEA said.

Last year, the NEA did a listing of all the events that were going on across the nation. With Twitter, “we have a much larger reach,” Beete said. Beete is in charge of the Twitter campaign.

According to Beete, the reason why the NEA is putting out tweets is to “call attention to great events all across the country.

Americans for the Arts, which is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary, is the coordinating group for National Arts and Humanities month. Instead of Twitter, the group has a map of the United States with different pinpoints over the map. Web users can click on the pinpoints and it will display the event, city and state that the event is taking place. Americans for the Arts declined to be quoted for this article.

One place that is new to the map is D.C. This year will be the first time that D.C. celebrates National Arts and Humanities Month.

The D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities hosted a Grand Fete at the Corcoran Gallery on the 21st of this month. The fete honored visual and media artists who have received 2010-2011 grants from the D.C. Commission. “This event is designed to honor these [21] individuals,” Rebecca Landwehr Outreach Coordinator for the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities said a week before the event. “It is a way for them to be on display."

Landwehr explained that, “This is D.C.’s way of celebrating arts and humanities month.”

National Arts and Humanities month can help the arts community in America because it “elevates art to a platform for economic development,” Landwehr said. Furthermore, this month has the arts “being put in the spotlight.”

National Arts and Humanities Month grew out of National Arts and Humanities Week, which was started by the NEA and Americans for the Arts in 1985.


More to Embryonic Stem Cell Funding Than Meets the Eye

By Rebecca Friedman

Washington, D.C.- -In her home in Guilford, Connecticut, Audrey Sundewall is up throughout the night checking on her son. Usually at 2 am, 4 am and 6 am, Lucas calls for her if he is thirsty or does not feel well. For a mother with a young child, this is a typical night. Lucas, however, is 12. He is quadriplegic, paralyzed from the nipples down.

“They told us he was living in the best of times,” says Sundewall, commenting on what the doctors told her after her son became paralyzed at seven years old, by a tumor pressing on his spine. “We truly don’t believe that he’s going to spend his life in a wheelchair.”

Sundewall has high hopes for Lucas’s future, but those hopes may not come to fruition since the ban on funding for embryonic stem cell research last August.

Over a million people are paralyzed in the U.S., according to reports issued by the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation. Christopher Reeve, of Superman fame, pushed hard for stem cell research after he became paralyzed in 1995 during an equestrian competition. In 2009 President Obama signed an executive order that overturned a policy that limited federal funding for stem cell research. Paralyzed teens and young adults like Lucas are those that can benefit from embryonic stem cell research. There is no cure for a spinal cord injury and embryonic stem cells may be the key to finding a cure as they could help replace damaged nerve cells. Though devastating, a spinal cord injury does not have to change the person, only their mobility. In fact, there are those who say people should be fighting for more rights for people with disabilities rather than keeping the focus on finding a cure.

On August 23 of this year, U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lambeth issued a preliminary injunction that would stop funding for embryonic stem cell research. Though the ban was temporarily lifted on September 9, it does not guarantee that funding will still be given.

“It’s a very devastating devastating, devastating ruling,” said Andrew Morris, Director of Legislation at United Spinal Association, located in Washington, D.C. “When a judge can just wipe out the future of all research, it’s astonishing!” said Morris, emphatically waving his arms.

Morris is concerned about where the ruling will leave American scientists. He is worried that there will be a “brain drain” on America. Other countries are progressing in embryonic stem cell research and Morris believes that “we’re going to lose our scientists to other countries.”

Those who work one on one with teens and young adults with spinal cord injuries know how important the research is. Nurses and physicians at Craig Hospital, in Denver, Colorado are those who know. Craig Hospital is exclusively dedicated to spinal cord and traumatic brain injury rehabilitation and research.

“Embryonic stem cell research is the most promising area that we have to finding a cure for spinal cord injury,” said Deidre Bicker, a registered nurse at Craig hospital.

On October 3rd of this year embryonic stem cell research had a breakthrough. Gary Smith of the University of Michigan has created an embryonic stem cell line that replicates. This could potentially mean an endless supply of embryonic stem cell tissue that could be used for research purposes. There is no cure for spinal cord injury because those types of injuries destroy nerve cells. The human body cannot regenerate these types of cells.

“Once nerve cells become destroyed, they cannot regenerate anymore,” explains Bicker. Unless there is a cure for spinal cord injury, no one who has an injury can ever fully heal.

Charles Krauthammer, a syndicated columnist for the Washington Post writes on stem cell research and his personal ethical issues on the matter. Krauthammer was paralyzed when he was 22 in a diving accident. In an interview with Frontline, a television program and website sponsored by PBS, Krauthammer explains how difficult working with the spinal cord is.

“The neurology of the spinal cord is so complicated and misunderstood -- [it's] not understood why there's no regeneration in the central nervous system -- that there was really no real hope of any cure. And in fact, the reason I'm particularly sensitive about this is when I was hospitalized and in recovery, I was in rooms with other kids who were also injured, who were not medical students and who didn't know any of this and were living for the cure and had sort of mortgaged their lives and their futures to the cure that was never going to come.”

Once rehabilitation starts, there will be small improvements, but depending upon the injury and where it is on the spinal cord, the person may not be able to function as they did before. “Spinal cord injury is pretty devastating,” says Bicker.

A spinal cord injury changes a person’s life forever, but Bicker does not believe that a person’s mental state has to change due to the injury. Bicker sees people come in and out of the hospital and has learned that a person’s change is physical, not mental. “Whoever you are before the injury, you are after.”

Sundewall has made sure of this with Lucas who has been paralyzed since he was seven and will be turning thirteen this year. Lucas plays videogames like every other able- bodied kid; though his games are limited to the Xbox, as they are the only kind he can physically play with. “He’s a straight A student,” says Sundewall and there is no masking the pride that can be heard in her voice.

Yet, while most seventh graders do their homework by themselves, Sundewall and her husband Ray, have to write out Lucas’s homework. Since he goes through a regular school day, plus exercises daily, Lucas tends to be exhausted by the time homework rolls around. “He has normal homework, but at that time he gets so tired we have to write it. He says exactly what to do,” says Sundewall.

There are at least three people at American University who understand that a disability does not make the person, it is just one part of them. Three young women make up American University’s Disability Alliance Club Executive Board. The club is an advocacy group for disabled students on campus.

“My disability doesn’t define me, it’s a part of me, “ says Allie Cannington, 18, who gets around by wheelchair. Cannington has the ability to walk, but her disease called Osteogenesis Imperfecta, makes her bones brittle and easy to fracture. If she were to walk around and trip, she could easily end up severely hurt.

The young women are all sitting at a circular table at the Mudbox. Coffee cups and textbooks surround them. Jenny Leland is the president of the club and speaks up next to describe her disability.

“It’s just one fact about me,” says Leland, 20, who has Stargardt’s Disease,

which slowly makes a person blind.

“I take a lot of pride in having my disability,” Cannington says. This issues forth a debate on disability pride between Leland and Cannington. Arms are waving, hands are being gestured, and in general it is a fun debate. The third member of their party, Amber Laughton, 21, just watches and shakes her head at the two other girls. The debate seems to amuse her. There is a huge grin on her face.

“I have never been diagnosed with a disability, but I have one. We all do,” says Laughton.

The history of embryonic stem cell research is still relatively young. In 1998 Dr. James Thomson was the first person to successfully isolate human embryonic stem cells. In that same year, Dr. John Gearhart successfully isolated and cultured human stem cells. The cells that Gearhart worked with were able to replicate themselves without differentiating, meaning that instead of the cell changing drastically in shape and size, it stayed the same. This had a profound effect on the scientific world and in particular transplant therapy. With what Gearhart found, it could be possible to grow human tissue in laboratories to replace failing organs. Both Gearhart’s and Thomson’s discoveries could help with the future of transplants.

Today the future is not solely focused on the research. There is a debate going on if

perhaps those with disabilities should be looking toward legislation, which would give them more civil rights. There are those who believe there should be programs that will enable those who are paralyzed to lead an independent life.

“Within the spinal cord community there’s been a lot of debate on just finding a cure for paralysis,” said Morris, adding that within United Spinal Association, “promoting independence” is their main goal.

“A cure is not our main firefight. But we’re still promoting research.” The magazine rack that sits outside of Morris’s office portrays this. The magazines that fill it show pictures of paralyzed people doing daily tasks, living their daily lives with smiles on their faces.

He plays with a hot mustard packet, tossing it back and forth in his hands. “We need to focus on the here and now. People need their civil rights.”

Some people think that embryonic stem cell research is the cure and that is what they are fighting for, instead of advocacy or rights for the disabled. Cannington feels that this is the wrong idea.

“I feel that it’s false hope. The last thing I would say to my child who wants to play soccer with everyone else, is that one day he would be able to.”

Audrey Sundewall is not in this mindset and believes that research will bring about a cure for her son. To her, there is always a hope of a cure.

It is around 9 p.m. and it is time for Sundewall to start getting Lucas ready for bed. She puts in a gastronomy tube after Lucas falls asleep. The tube feeds Lucas while he sleeps because he does not get enough nutrients during the day. She will be back in his room in a few hours to check on him. Sundewall is firm in her belief that this will not last forever.

“My personal goal is to see him walk across the stage to get his high school diploma. He’s not going to live his life in a chair.”


“Our Town” Proposes to Boost Local Economy

By: Rebecca Friedman

Washington, D.C.—The National Endowment for the Arts proposed in their Fiscal Year 2011 Budget Request a new program that will revitalize the arts industry in local communities while at the same time increase their economy.

The new program entitled “Our Town” has a projected cost of $ 5 million. In its proposal, the NEA stated that “Our Town” would help “to revitalize and improve the livability of communities, provide joy and inspiration, and restore a sense of pride and community spirit.”

“We have requested five million to make approximately thirty-two grants,” Victoria Hutter, a spokesperson for the NEA, said.

The communities that would be focused on are “communities of all sizes and locations…especially those that are facing economic challenges but are interested in the arts,” according to the NEA’s budget proposal. The communities that the NEA will bestow grants must meet three factors. They must have partnerships with public industries, such as libraries, and private industries, such as community organizations. The second factor is public engagement. Communities whose ability to have the arts in their towns, are limited “by geography, ethnicity, economics, or disability,” will be considered. The last factor is durability. The town must demonstrate the lasting impact of the grant.

One of the resources the NEA used for its analysis was a report done by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices. The report entitled, “2009 Arts & the Economy: Using Arts and Culture to Stimulate State Economic Development,” laid out how “creative industries” could stimulate a community’s economy.

“The most important thing is to understand what creative industries are,” Erin Sparks, a writer and editor for the 2009 report, said.

Sparks explained that there is more to the creative industries than just music and theatre. Architecture and museums can be counted in the creative industry spectrum. This is seen when a city or town’s downtown area uses architecture to renovate the area. A nice downtown “leads to a thriving community and economy,” said Sparks.

The question is how much economic growth can a city actually achieve?

According to Sparks, “Economic growth comes from new businesses. ” Creative industries do not seem to have any economic growth “cap” because new businesses “spur growth by their very nature,” Sparks said.

A city in Missouri is currently working on a program that fits right into “Our Town”

In February 2010 a group in Joplin, Missouri proposed an idea called “Connect2Culture. This program would be used for “encouraging growth and development…that enhances the arts, education, and the economy,” Clifford Wert, a co-chair on the Connect2Culture committee said.

Joplin has a population of less than 50,000, but with the Connect2Culture program, Wert hopes to attract upwards of 250,000 people on a daily basis. To do this, the Connect2Culture program would build a cultural arts center in the downtown area.

This center would stimulate Joplin’s economy in multiple ways: tourism, additional sales tax revenue and increase property value, just to name a few.

Wert notes that economic growth is one of the main goals of Connect2Cutlure. “We view this as a definite boost to out market economy.”