Throughout May and June, Regional Arts Victoria is raising funds to help disadvantaged regional school students experience high quality art. In this blog series, Regional Arts Victoria staff reflect on why a good arts education is so important for children and young people.
Growing up the child of immigrant parents in an under-privileged environment, I didn’t know that the arts were a ‘thing’, yet I was surrounded everyday by music, embroidery and creative activity. It was a part of my everyday life.
Music played the major part and it was all about Judy Garland and the Mickey Mouse club on telly, or riveting tarantellas on the record player, or lounge room sessions with my big brothers playing country music on the guitar and me learning to sing harmonies to ‘Paper Roses’.
My mum tried to teach me to crochet, knit, cook, embroider and sew but I wasn’t all that creative with my hands. At primary school the only arts I remember being involved in was the school choir (though the theatre of a church service enthralled me), and at high school, aside from a couple of concerts and a little singing trio that my friends and I formed for a while, I wasn’t exposed to many other arts experiences – well, none that were memorable.
I liked drama classes but was too self-conscious to really participate. I learnt the guitar and piano for a year but it seemed a chore. Looking back, I think the opportunities may have been there, but even when some may have sparked my interest, there was no encouragement at home or school to pursue them as a career as my mother simply didn’t understand that was an option because of the cultural differences.
In fact, a career of any sorts for me was not on the table. I certainly wish now that I had followed my interest in music further at a primary and secondary school or even tertiary level. Had I been exposed to more at school, had there been opportunities for learning in those fields, and had I been encouraged to follow paths that I loved like singing and acting, I might have had a different trajectory. Not that I am complaining, I love what I do and I dabble in music, singing and acting but I could have pursued those fields more seriously.
My daughter, on the other hand, was exposed to much more culturally within the school environment and at home. She learnt the flute for a while, took part in school productions, participated in community theatre from a young age and has seen so many shows and read so many books that she has had a view of the world from a young age that was so much broader, balanced and learned than mine ever was.
At nine, when she saw her first big city show, she whispered to me, “Those stars are really just lights aren’t they Mum,” and often explained to me that “those people are just acting, Mum.”
As a teen, she participated in workshops both within the school environment and via other sources with the Torch project, Back to Back Theatre Company and Bell Shakespeare. Within those she learnt about local Indigenous issues, about refugees and actually performed a heartbreaking monologue and a scratch animation about her own experience of bullying.
As an adult now, her creative side displays intelligence and emotion that I believe is directly attributed to the exposure she had from a young age within the school system and beyond.
In my adult life, after many years in retail I was lucky enough to score a job in a regional performing arts centre and that path has led me to the work I am doing today. It exposed me to challenging works so far removed from the classic musical theatre that was my limited knowledge base.
It was there that I loved to watch young children skip into the theatre excited about their first show, or regular young theatregoers thrilled about the experience they were about to receive.
In my social life, as a member of a community theatre group, I get to watch numerous young people perform for the first time, or participate in workshops in their regional towns, or at schools and now, via the wonder of Facebook, I watch those same young people progress their careers as musicians, dancers, writers, directors, theatre makers, arts administrators, marketers and more, both here in Australia and internationally.
Aside from enjoying and sharing my daughter’s wonderment with life, theatre and music everyday as she grew up, my favorite experience was when a young boy who I didn’t know, aged about seven years old, sat next to me in a theatre and as the lights went down he said breathlessly, “I think it’s going to start now,” and then, when the coloured lights came up on the stage, he nudged me, looked at me with wide eyes and said, “Wow, this is amazing,” and the play hadn’t even commenced!
I spent the rest of the night watching his reactions. I’m so thrilled that the work we do contributes to these experiences for young people over and over again.