An invitation to ‘Partake’ in MISD fine arts

About three years ago, I happened to be a parent chaperone riding along on a school bus with a bunch of excited music students and their teacher, Vicki White-Miltun. Vicki asked, all too casually, “Would you be interested in serving on ‘the Fine Arts Advisory’?” I replied, “The what?” She then spoke of a group of volunteers without whose support over the years she might not have made the career decisions she has made: to virtually single-handedly build and keep nurturing ever since our school district’s excellent orchestra program. Well, I revere Vicki for that, so of course I said that I would think about it, and now I find myself president of the group. I did not know then quite what I was getting myself into, but I gladly tell you now that Mercer Island’s Fine Arts Advisory Committee (FAAC) is well worth my time and your support.

What is FAAC? We are a not-for-profit organization with a 12-member volunteer board dedicated to promoting curriculum-based fine arts education in the Mercer Island School District (MISD). Although there are other terrific organizations in our community that support education and/or the arts, only the FAAC is all about and only about fine arts education. Every penny we can possibly pass along directly benefits our public schools’ fine arts programs and the students enrolled in them.

Recently, the FAAC has donated approximately $10,000 per year to MISD for enhancement of its fine arts programs. As a matter of FAAC policy that I consider particularly important and reflective of our mission, our board respects the expertise and time of our hard-working fine arts faculty by leaving to their discretion how that money is distributed and spent every year. In addition, we give approximately $1,000 total in individual grants to a small number of Mercer Island High School students selected by the fine arts faculty based on need and merit. We are currently able to allot to these grants about 80 percent of our annual budget. By far the majority of our expenses are incurred in producing Showcase.

Historically, the FAAC evolved through several decades of intensive effort by parents and other community leaders who recognized that quality education must include the fine arts. Thanks to them, our school district created a Fine Arts Coordinator position; began Art Docents and Artists-in-Residence programs; includes the fine arts as core subjects in MISD educational goals for all grade levels; and hosts Fine Arts Showcase, a Mercer Island institution now in its 29th year and still unmatched by any other district in our region. Showcase is a wonderful two-evening event that FAAC co-presents annually with the district to celebrate and help fund K-12 student achievement in band, orchestra, choir, drama, dance and increasingly diverse disciplines in the visual arts.

Our present goal is to raise community awareness of FAAC’s existence and mission. We want our Mercer Island individual and business neighbors to know that all are warmly invited and needed to help support fine arts education in our public schools. To that end, we have just launched a Web site and are working again with a recently added fundraising partner to offer FAAC benefit advance ticket sales to Broadway-scale musical productions at local venues. Keep an eye on our Web site for details about upcoming benefit opportunities to see “Disney’s High School Musical” and “Phantom of the Opera.”

As Vicki White-Miltun, or any of our district’s fine arts teachers would gratefully affirm, $10,000 a year makes a significant difference. But if you ask, they’d also tell you honestly that it isn’t nearly enough to fulfill our public schools’ fine arts education goals and needs. I haven’t room in this forum to lay out the many concrete reasons why that is true, so for now I ask you to come be inspired by the incredible talent of our young students at Fine Arts Showcase 2008 on March 4 and 5 at Mercer Island High School.

Our Showcase theme this year is “Partake!” and it will be, again, an awesome show that not only entertains but also reminds the audience why fine arts education matters so much, not only to this year’s students, but to the vitality and wisdom of our community at large, right now and in the future we leave to these precious young people.

For FAAC and Showcase information, including online ticket sales, I encourage you to visit our Web site at www.mifineartsed.org. I would love to see you March 4 and 5 at “Partake”: Mercer Island’s 29th Annual Fine Arts Showcase 2008.

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