By Marianne Sullivan
What are the most important qualities for employees of the future? When CEOs of major corporations were surveyed, eight percent said global thinking, 30 percent said integrity, and 62 percent said creative thinking. Surprised? David Kuehler isn’t. Neither is the Art Department at Daniel Hand High School.
Kuehler explains, “What CEOs are trying to tell us is that the global challenges facing us today are for too complex to be solved relying on linear processes of the past. What is needed are the capacities developed in the arts. Holistic problem-solving, empathy, pattern reading, visualization of complex ideas, and divergent thinking are just a few of the competencies developed in art programs. The ‘thinking’ developed in arts, coupled with those formed in core educational curriculums, is what will truly prepare our students to meet the emerging challenges of the future.”
This is more than a hypothesis for Kuehler. He is an innovation consultant with 25 years; experience working with corporations such as Proctor & Gamble and Disney. He has seen it and experienced it throughout his working life. He has also seen and experienced Daniel Hand’s art program.
“I knew the Art Department through my daughter, who found success here and is now a student at Carnegie Mellon.”
The recognition of creative thinking in the learning process is one shared by Hand’s Art Department. So when the Madison Foundation came forward with the idea of an arts education fund, the department responded without hesitation. The foundation has now established the Daniel Hand High School Artist Enrichment Fund (AEF) with an initial $5,000 contribution and a $5,000 matching grant.
Art Teacher Suzanne Gaskell says the fund “comes at such as critical time for our students.” She explains, “These kids are so over-tested and so stressed that they have trouble thinking creatively.”
It is an experience she confronts each school day. All students are required to take at least one credit in the visual and performing arts. The requirement places in an art class approximately one-third of all Hand students who would not be there under other circumstances.
“This is the place where they can come to learn that there is no one right answer, but perhaps many answers. This is the place where they can breathe. This is the place where they can visualize a whole,” she says.
Art Teacher Robert DelRusso agrees. “We enjoy the diversity of our students. It works well in the classroom. We have athletes, we have all types, and the challenge is to get them to ‘see the whole,’ to get their right brain thinking, to learn how to use the creative skill as a way of thinking.”
The new fund will help the Art Department augment its programs. Its focus will be to provide resources for arts education, enhance the student and teacher relationships, and establish DHHS as one of the top high school arts programs in the country.
Gaskell said in the first few years the fund will focus on three areas-artist experiences, resource materials, and supplemental supplies. Artist experiences will include workshops with professional artists who introduce new thinking and techniques not available in the classroom as a continuing education for both students and teachers. Resource materials will include media such as art books, DVDs, and anatomical models. Supplemental supplies include materials that advance unique projects or interests of students.
The Art Department and its students and teachers are now brainstorming fundraising ideas. The fund is also seeking local donations to match the original, generous funding so that resources can begin flowing to the Art Department early next year. The long-term goal will be to grow the fund into a self-sustaining endowment led by the Madison Foundation and supported by donations, grants, endowments, and student fundraisers.
Contributions can be made by sending a tax-deductible check to The Madison Foundation: Artist Education Fund, P.O. Box 446, Madison, CT 06443.
This article originally appeared in The Day.