Four years ago, I used this space to encourage Sarasota County voters to renew the local option property tax to help fund education programs for another four years. I could probably just run the same column again now that the tax is up for renewal for the third time. But I’m not going to do that.
While the 1 mill tax (which amounts to $1 for every $1,000 of taxable property value) has a lot of benefits for public schools, I’ve supported it primarily because it has helped to keep arts programs flourishing in county schools.
Four years ago, and in the two previous elections when the tax was approved by voters, I was inundated with press releases, flyers and mailers encouraging me to vote for it, along with a few pieces against it.
This year, I have received just one mailing (so far) and seen a few signs on lawns and outside some businesses. Hopefully that’s an indication that there isn’t a lot of opposition this year.
But this is no time for complacency. Across the country, arts programs have disappeared from schools, just as arts coverage has been whittled away by the newspapers that cover those communities.
But not in Sarasota, and I think there’s an interesting parallel between the two.
I have certainly been lucky, personally, that the Herald-Tribune has had publishers and top editors who see the value of covering the arts for our readers. The arts here are big business, and as I reported in a front page story last week, business is booming for most arts organizations. Theaters and other arts groups in cities that have suffered a decline in media coverage have often reported struggles at their own box offices because they’re not getting the attention they once did.
Our vibrant arts and cultural scene also has been a benefit to students in Sarasota (and Manatee) County schools. Most offer well-developed programs that tie into the county’s curriculum goals. With the EdExploreSRQ.Com website, teachers can easily find programs that fit 7their classroom studies.
More importantly, there has been passionate support from the Arts Education Task Force and other arts leaders to make sure that arts education is considered essential in creating well-rounded students.
I know the arts are taught in a different way than when I was in school. In many schools, they are fully integrated with the so-called basics of English, math and science.
That’s important to raising well-rounded individuals, who will grow up with a greater appreciation of the world around them, even if they don’t realize it yet.
Visual arts and music classes were part of our everyday routines when I was growing up in New Jersey. I drifted more toward music at the time, studying piano (at my parents’ insistence) from an early age, and later adding clarinet (after a brief and headache-inducing attempt at the trumpet).
In high school, I performed on stage in school musical revues, getting a taste of live theater. I never saw myself pursuing a career as a musician or a performer. But those classes exposed me to all sorts of cultural history. I can go to the Sarasota Orchestra or Sarasota Opera and recognize and better appreciate music that I once played (in much simplified versions).
More importantly, I became aware of musical theater and learned about the great composers and writers of Broadway shows, just as I began to experience Broadway for myself. Who knows what I might be doing today without that background and exposure.
Those lessons have served me well over the years and are inspirations that I can still draw upon for one reason or another.
I can only hope that the classes supported by this extra tax revenue will provide similar inspiration to future artists and arts patrons alike. Whatever paths they take, they are the ones who will help to carry on the great traditions of the arts organizations that we all love and support.
Jay Handelman is the theater critic for the Herald-Tribune and president of the Foundation of the American Theatre Critics Association. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be sure to “like” Arts Sarasota on Facebook, Follow me on twitter at twitter.com/jayhandelman.