The arts abound in education

Published 10:44 pm Friday, October 18, 2019

By Linda Bunch

I was recently asked to give a talk at one of Suffolk’s civic clubs about the arts in Suffolk. The idea of sharing my findings was suggested and has resulted in a three-part series for the Suffolk News-Herald.

Wanting to get a better picture of the arts in Suffolk, I contacted some of my colleagues around town. As their responses started to come back, I realized just how wonderful it is to live in a city with so much going on.

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I was working on this about the time the Peanut Festival was kicking off. If you went out, I hope you found the Suffolk Public Schools art on display and visited the Harvest Family Stage to catch some of the school orchestras, choruses and bands that performed.

We have been very fortunate to have school administrations, public and private, who understand the value of arts in education. Our students regularly make us proud by being selected for district and state music events, and our theater programs have won hundreds of awards. Suffolk even has a group selected to perform at Carnegie Hall this year.

Our schools’ alumni are currently working in New York City, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., as performers and visual artists. One student who grew up in Suffolk is Ryan Speedo Green. Speedo had a tough childhood. His lashing out landed him in juvenile detention. Upon returning to Suffolk schools, he was extremely lucky to have a couple of teachers who recognized his amazing singing voice. Through a lot of hard work, Speedo Green landed a spot at the Governor’s School for the Arts, where he was introduced to the opera and fell in love with classical music. He has excelled and has sung on some of the most prestigious opera stages in the world, including with the Metropolitan Opera. There is a biography about him — “Sing for Your Life.” You could say that the arts saved Ryan Speedo Green.

With all the changes in how we do business, how we work and society as a whole, we still teach students the same way we have taught since the beginning of the industrial revolution. Businesses now say that one of the traits they look for in new employees is creativity — the ability to innovate. The arts can be the catalyst for learning that creativity. “When you think about it, the alphabet was civilization’s first abstract art form,” says Leonard Shlain in his book, “Art and Physics.” The cubists were exploring space/time relationships before Einstein developed his special theory of relativity and artists understood perspective and proportions long before mathematicians had names for such things. What if we made the arts the core subjects and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) the exploratory subjects? The arts can benefit from having a solid foundation in STEM. Integrating these studies into an arts-based education can be valuable.

Painters need to understand the minerals needed to make pigments for their paints and the oils and new chemicals that are used as binders and mediums. Jewelers need metallurgy and knowledge of minerals, gems and stones. Learning about the earth sciences and chemistry informs the artists of the possibilities for their creations. New materials are being developed daily and digital imaging and 3-D printing offer artists the opportunity to embrace technology. The process of making their artwork forces students to develop problem-solving strategies.

For dancers and musicians, they must understand math. Students must learn to count, learn fractions and so much more to learn to read music. Visual artists also need to understand math and geometry; it is a vital skill for artists.

So why not consider what an education system would look like if we put the arts at the core? Sir Ken Robinson, an internationally recognized leader in the development of creativity, innovation and human potential, has a couple great TED talks ( related to these ideas. They are well worth watching.

Linda G. Bunch was raised in Chuckatuck and is executive director of the Suffolk Art League. Contact her at