Eugene T. Paslov: Art as the voice of our community
In June of last year I wrote about one of my favorite authors, Dr. Loren Eisley, a world-renowned anthropologist, scientist and a poet-storyteller. He made the world understandable to those of us who struggle with its complexities. Dr. Eisley related an incident (in his award-winning book, “Immense Journey”) about an anthropological finding he and his colleagues discovered on the east coast of Africa. Scattered across several miles were the remains of an ancient people. There were two unique features about these ancient humanoids. First, Eisley noted that the cranial capacity, in an otherwise normal, humanoid skeletal frame, was twice the size of contemporary humans. A larger brain suggests greater intellectual power with which to approach the problems of the day. Second, Eisley could not find anything that remained of this large-brained culture beyond the skeletal remains. Nothing of their art or artists, devoid of anything about their teachers, the history of their way of life. Even among the most ancient people, there is almost always some indication of a species’ culture. It was counterintuitive that none existed for the large-brain species. Skulls were shattered by some less intelligent species wielding heavy clubs. Their will to survive had some purpose more powerful than intelligence alone. Dr. Eisley thought it might have to do with the power of their teachers, their art, their community.I doubt if Dr. Eisely would appreciate my making too much of this story. As a scientist he believed in economy of speculation. But as a poet he treasured imagination and art; he understood the need to include the elements of the arts in all parts of our lives. There are lessons to be learned from these large-brained humanoids and their less intelligent club-swingers: intelligence needs to be moderated by teaching, learning, by the development of language and mathematics, by preserving and understanding our culture and history. All of the arts–from music to dance and drama, from painting to story-telling, all use problem-solving protocols that help preserve our history and culture.A story by John Barrett in the Sept. 13 Nevada Appeal states that the Silver State Charter High School is going to expand its theater program. I applaud the vision to expand the arts in Carson City. Abbey Gardner, the current theater program director who is in charge of the expansion, will do an excellent job.The students at Silver State Charter Middle/High School will have an opportunity to take the learning from their expanded theater arts program and apply those learning skills to their academic requirements for graduation. Better for students, teachers and parents. I personally think this is an excellent move and I applaud Ms. Gardner’s efforts to expand the arts.I mentioned earlier that I, several teachers and parents from Reno, Carson City and Douglas have submitted an application for a new Charter High/Middle School — grades 7-12. The school will be called the “Nevada Performance Academy.” NPA will draw students from the surrounding counties; we plan to open in the fall of 2013.The NPA has several purposes:• To provide a dual emphasis on arts in education. Students interested in how the arts enrich all academic pursuits, but not necessarily in performance, will work on arts-embedded curriculum. Others more interested in actual performance — theater and film, dance and music, and all points within and outside these traditional realms of artistic expression — will have guided, hands-on opportunities to reach their highest potential. Unique course and artist-led workshops will be offered to help students achieve their performance goals. • To provide a two-path emphasis on arts at the school. Students who are interested in the arts, but not necessarily in performance, will work with their teachers on arts-embedded curriculum. The second path will be available for those students who are interested in performance. All students will be required to meet rigorous academic, college-bound graduation requirements. Specially designed electives will be available to students.• To work closely with WNC, The Brewery Arts Center, the Knowledge and Discovery Center, as well as regional businesses and economic development organizations, to explore entrepreneurial opportunities for the NPA students to eventually find good-paying careers in the arts and to stimulate the arts in Carson City.As Dr. Eisley understood, communities can further enrich our lives by embracing all forms of the arts.• Eugene T. Paslov is a board member of the Davidson Academy at the University of Nevada, Reno, and the former Nevada state superintendent of schools.