by Tracy McPartland
The arts are not optional. They are essential to our existence. They teach us about our history as a civilization and teach us about ourselves in a way nothing else can. The arts can touch us on such a deep level and impact our lives in such a profound way.
The arts feed my soul and have been an enormous part of my life for as long as I can remember.
I grew up in Cedar Rapids and have always been proud of the way our community has supported the arts. I feel like I grew up in an era that really promoted all that the arts had to offer, saw the value in the arts and made it a priority for kids to get an early start. I started taking piano lessons in second grade and began playing the cello in third grade. I remember so fondly my school cello teacher and orchestra director, Emily Sweet. I remember the exhilaration of playing in the full string orchestra as we performed for our families on the stage at Grant Wood Elementary School. Yes – a full string orchestra for fourth, fifth and sixth graders!! Then, when I went to McKinley, Ms. Sweet directed the full orchestra with brass and woodwind players – so much fun!! Right down the hall, Mr. Sedalek conducted the full band and Ms. Kauffman directed the choir, of which I was also a member. So many kids were involved in these programs and the lessons that were held at school. As I moved into high school, I continued in both the choral music and orchestra programs. As an adult, I began singing in the Chorale Midwest, a local community choir, and have continued singing with this group for 22 years!
I now work at the Eastern Iowa Arts Academy (EIAA), a non-profit after-school arts organization that provides art, music, dance, drama and creative writing classes for K-12 students in the Cedar Rapids metro area. Research supports what EIAA knows - the value of participating in the arts reaps dividends both in the classroom and beyond. EIAA’s primary goal is to provide fine arts experiences and a fundamental arts education to kids who might not otherwise have the opportunity to experience them. More importantly, we have the opportunity, every day, to provide the students we serve with the rich experiences and life skills the arts provide and to set them on a path for a lifetime of creativity.
The students who attend classes at EIAA are able to have an experience of themselves outside of the traditional learning environment. There is no right or wrong in art – only self-expression. Students are accepted for who they are and where they are in their artistic journeys. They learn new, creative and healthy ways to express their inner thoughts and deepest emotions and learn about the perspectives of their peers, who are also expressing themselves. Young musicians in our Rock Band Program learn cooperation and what is means to be responsible to your bandmates. A community of peers is formed among students from different schools and family situations. Many times, this is the first accepting community our students have discovered. They listen to each other, they care about each other and their lives are enriched in ways they aren’t even aware of yet.
I am so grateful for the opportunities I had as a child that laid the foundation for my love of the arts. I am equally grateful for the opportunity to work for an organization that helps to provide those same types of experiences for students of all ages and ability levels. We all have so much to learn and so much to gain by taking time to participate in and appreciate the diversity of arts opportunities in our community. The arts build stronger, more resilient kids and are a beautiful bridge to understanding people from all walks of life. I encourage you to jump on your artistic path to see where the journey will take you – I guarantee your life will be richer!