Trustee Pam Paulson on the Importance of the Arts
Trustee Pam Paulson on the Importance of the ArtsKemba Dunham, Senior Director, Internal Communications
Board of Trustee member Pamela Paulson is the director of policy at the Perpich Center for Arts Education in Minneapolis, MN. She spoke to All Access this summer about why the arts are important — to her, and to all students.
All Access: What’s the most critical issue in arts education today?
Pamela Paulson: It’s really the same issue in education in general — the inequity of access to a rich curriculum, one that challenges kids and supports them so they can reach their potential. Sometimes the classes are less than inspiring, and many students tune out because they haven’t found something that sparks their interest.
Kids from wealthy families find their way to the arts, while poor and underrepresented kids often end up missing out on the very opportunities that might be the most inspiring for them. They need to be exposed to high-quality arts learning that will both challenge them and support their brain development.
It comes down to access for all students.
AA: Do you have an arts background?
PP: I majored in dance in college, which surprised my family — they thought I would major in math or science because I was in accelerated classes in high school. But when I arrived on my college’s campus, I went to a big auditorium to find out which classes had open seats. I got to the dance registration table, and since I had been a gymnast in high school, I decided on the spot that I would major in dance. When I told my father, he didn’t say anything negative about my decision, but he was worried I wouldn’t be able to find a paying job. Luckily I’ve never had a day of unemployment in my career.
I often say that in the arts, you are probably better prepared for the future because most of your jobs will be created by you. You’re often at the bottom of the heap as an artist and arts educator, and you often don’t have a lot of money, but you always have an inner focus and passion for imagining, creating, innovating, and making your own path.
The arts are the best preparation for life — they give you focus, persistence, refinement, flexibility, and a love of what you are doing.
AA: How does role at the College Board enhance your day-to-day work in the arts?
PP: I started working on the College Board’s Arts Academic Committee in 1997, and it’s been an incredibly rewarding experience. I’ve always felt that the College Board valued the arts and treated them as equal to math and science; that has allowed us to have some wonderful conversations.
The College Board has such high expectations for kids and that’s really important. I love that there are opportunities for external measures of student performance, such as the AP® and AP Capstone™ courses and exams. In the arts we always say students need to do “real work for real audiences,” and they have to understand that there are high expectations. When you leave the stage as an artist, you hope that what you’ve done is of the highest quality so you feel pride in your performance and have communicated your message. The College Board sheds light on that process of practice and performance and helps us communicate that to our students.
AA: In your mind, how essential is the College Board’s purpose statement of “challenging all students to own their future”?
PP: When I think about the future, I think that we’re challenging students to be their best. They are going to be the citizens running the world. They will live and lead in the future. In order to have a democracy where ideas matter, where people discuss and debate, you have to have educated people. So students have a huge responsibility to be educated. Without education, they won’t have enough experience or insight to help make the decisions that will affect people who live in their community, state, country, and beyond.
AA: What do you love about your job?
PP: I feel so lucky to have art in my life. I get to walk through our high school every day and see art on the walls and see students making art in the studios. I give tours to our many visitors and can show them that students are making artwork that expresses powerful ideas. Students have great insights and can lift you up.
I talk primarily about students because they are the focus of our school, but I find equal joy in doing workshops for teachers, whether on our campus or in schools around the state. We always have teachers creating art, and you see those same positive things start to happen that you see with students. In these moments they are more alive — they are actually making something, creating, working collaboratively, and expressing ideas. You can feel a new energy in the room and in their work.
AA: How do you infuse art into your personal life?
PP: I still perform in informal settings. Down the street from my house is a Unitarian church, and when they have solstice performances and need performers, I will occasionally dance.
Recently I was part of a flash mob in a large office tower downtown.
Also, my son, who has learning disabilities, is a photographer. I think that’s one of the ways I’ve gotten immersed in art lately, by helping him find a way to express his ideas. I don’t have his eye for photography, but I’ve helped him put up some shows. I’ve tried to help him find his voice through his art.