Ultimately, to crack the nut of this struggle I asked myself: What can I contribute to this conversation that no one else on the panel can?
*Here's the gist of it...as best I can recall*
My name is Andie Bottrell and I am both honored and terrified to be here. I am an artist in the broadest sense of the term and the most specific. I am an actor, a writer, a photographer, a painter. I create every day. That's not a goal I set for myself or a lifestyle choice, it's just what I do. It's what I've always done. It's what comes naturally to me, but it's also how I process life--how I figure out what I'm feeling--how I communicate when words fail me...and they fail me often--they will probably fail me many times in the next few minutes, so forgive me. I'm an actor and I prefer a script.
I'm not a teacher by trade, though I have taught a few times in my life. I taught English to Koreans online and I taught a teen and young adult creative writing group. Many of those students were dealing with mental health issues. And writing their poetry, their prose, their essays and graphic novels, as well as the group itself, was literally a saving grace. And that's something I know about--about the dark poetry of adolescence...about the incredible, transformative power of the arts to create something positive out of whatever negative things life throws at you.
I believe that the arts, at its core, are a survival skill. There's no question it helps increase empathy, helps us deal with traumatic experiences, broadens perspectives beyond our own life experience, and encourages creative problem solving. When you look throughout history, there's never been a time when we haven't needed the arts...not in times of poverty or war, not in prosperity, not when we lived in caves. We've always needed to express ourselves, to tell our stories. So, anytime the merit of the arts is called into question in the academic landscape, it baffles me.
My mom was an art teacher in the public school system for several years and she told me how frustrating it was--how her class was viewed as an "arts & crafts recess." She told me how frustrating this was when she was seeing first hand, day in and day out how her class was positively impacting kids lives. For some kids, the only reason they stay in school is for classes like these. For some kids these classes are the only exposure to the arts that they are going to get--this is their only chance to discover that they have a talent for it, or more importantly, that they can use these skills as a coping mechanism for the rest of their lives.
We all process information differently--some of us are visual learners, while others learn best audibly. Some people are more analytical, while others are more creative. We need all kinds--but to only expose our kids to one style of learning is a detriment to us all. Even if you don't consider yourself artistic or creative, you can't walk through a day on earth without benefiting from the arts.
I like to joke sometimes by telling the truth...that I basically have an 11th grade education. My senior year of high school I was an exchange student in Italy. After that I just studied acting. If you were to ask me what I learned in high school...I got bupkis. I'm sure I did learn things. I just don't remember learning them...or what they were. But I remember as vividly as yesterday the things I learned in my various arts training.
I remember playing Emily in Our Town when I was in High School and doing her monologue where she says goodbye to all the little things she would miss in life. Simple, little mundane things you normally wouldn't give a second thought to...a bath, a cup of coffee, her mother's flowers. I remember being so overwhelmed by this...by the beauty of these little, daily details and learning that I never wanted to take them for granted again.
The arts teach you to find beauty in life.
I remember being in Italy at art school...I didn't speak the language when I moved there but I was expected to complete my assignments and live my life and because I had the tools of art around me, I was still able to communicate, to contribute, to connect. The arts bridges so many barriers...developmentally, culturally, socioeconomically, etc.
I remember being in school at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York and being taught for the first time to take up space when I enter a room--a stark contrast to the idolatry of smallness and invisibility I had spent the previous of decade of my life mastering. The arts teaches you to own your story--that you are enough, that you have value beyond the physical. That your story is power.
I remember studying Meisner and discovering the beauty of being truly present in the moment with another human being. I remember researching other walks of life and putting myself in their shoes and learning an empathy and awareness of other walks of life that I had not previously considered.
Words fail me often in life. I shut down sometimes. But when I shut down, I know I can always go to the canvas, the paper and pen, the keyboard, the camera, the guitar...I can create my way through it. And when you can turn something negative into something beautiful...whether it's a painting, or a poem, or a joke, or articulate the feeling in a way that's never been put into words before..that's powerful. That's life saving. Honestly, I don't know that I would still be here without the arts.
As funding for public arts programs diminishes, I think we all must take on the responsibility ourselves. Anyone who has mastered an artistic craft, who has studied, who has resources and materials must take the time and effort to pass those on to the next generation because it may be the only exposure they get...and it may save a life.