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Telling Your Personal Story with the Arts

By Judy Bush, Past President of Nebraska Music Education Association and NAfME North Central Division

Why do we support the arts?  I do not doubt that we could spout all kinds of research as to why studying and participating in the arts is good for us as human beings or maybe why supporting the arts is good for the economy, but I’m asking you, why do you PERSONALLY support the arts?  Is it one art form or multiple forms? What is your story behind the passion you feel for the arts?

I’m pretty sure I was one of those kids who could have fallen through the cracks had it not been for music.  Growing up at my house was traumatic, but as fate would have it, my dad was a music lover, a man who started playing trumpet but had to quit, a person who loved to sing but it never went anywhere.  Still, he insisted that his children be a part of music in school and music was a constant in the house when he was there, everything from swing to Romantic orchestral music to the Beatles, both vocal and instrumental.  It became a lifelong connection with my dad. For me music ended up being a place where I belonged, where I identified with “my people”, thus beginning more than three decades in music education.  For my brother, it became a passionate hobby, one that de-stresses him as he goes from engineer by day to rock drummer by night.  

My school days were spent singing and playing in the band.  Not only did being a part of the art form (and having great music teachers!) save me from things happening at home, but it also literally saved me as I found my faith through a friend who invited me to sing at her church.  It has given me a network of like-minded friends and colleagues throughout my lifetime. So, I support the arts wholeheartedly because I believe music saved me from what I might have become without it. And I’m NOT the only one who has lived or is living this story.  The arts can be lifesaving for so many for so many reasons!

What is your story?  What is it about the arts, music, visual art, or dance, that makes your heart sing?  How have they connected you to others, or maybe become your vocation or hobby? How do you use or tell that story to share the importance of the arts for everyone?  Most people cringe a little bit when the word advocacy is used.  They think it means you have to keep up with legislation that would support the cause or attend every arts opportunity in town.  But sometimes it’s just being willing to share with someone why the arts are important to YOU.  Personal stories are compelling, and make us vulnerable, which is what touches other people who may identify with your story. 

So what can a little story do for the arts?  It can bring in other like-minded people to support the cause, by relating their own stories, as well as sharing their time, talents, and finances as they are comfortable.  There is power in numbers. I’ve been allowed to speak to legislators over the years in support of music education. While I have some difficulty remembering all the legalese of appropriations, bills, and asks, I never have a problem telling a story about how the power of music makes a lasting difference in the lives of my students.  I’ve found out that sometimes legislators get tired of hearing how much money an organization wants or needs, but they might jump at a chance to help change the lives of the people they represent when they hear their story.  The story can take the quantitative out and make it qualitative – a story, if you will. And anyone can tell a story.

Before you think that all you can do is tell your story, I think that’s a great beginning, but that’s just dipping your toes in the water.  Every little bit you donate monetarily helps organizations like NFTA and those who DO understand the language of bills and appropriations to speak for those uncomfortable with that.  Volunteering a little time to support the things you’re passionate about is all about putting your feet to your faith.  Saying you have faith in the power of the arts is one thing, volunteering to serve in some way to demonstrate that faith is another thing altogether.  It doesn’t have to be much – many hands make light work, so the old adage says, so anything you have time and talent for, is always appreciated.  

Not sure where your story fits in the big picture?  NFTA has options for you!  Check out the website and/or contact Executive Director Lance Nielsen for more information.  Support the arts by telling your story!