I am a proud product of the SEL school system, from elementary school through high school. Upon graduation from Brush High School in 2008, I was accepted into The Cleveland Institute of Art on a scholarship, and studied painting. Some people would say that pursuing a career in the fine arts after the economic crash was a foolish one—that there are no real career prospects given a painting degree (real being the pejorative term to mean financially viable). I strongly disagree. The creative economy is responsible for over 704 billion dollars of yearly economic growth nationally, and employs over 4.7 million wage and salary workers. These industries range widely from independent artists and galleries, to advertising agencies, design firms, publishing houses, the theater and film industries, etc… the list goes on and on. Beyond strictly arts industry careers, studies have proven that an education in the arts promotes a level of creative problem solving that is useful in the business field. After all, aren’t successful CEOs often-labeled visionaries?
I participated in a number of influential arts programs in SEL schools that helped to foster a future passion for a career in the arts. At Greenview Upper Elementary, I started in band, which then lead to playing drum set in the school jazz ensemble at Memorial Jr. High, which lead to playing center snare in the high school marching band drum line. During this time I also developed a deep love for reading and making from the classes I took in painting, darkroom photography, ceramics, art history, AP Studio, and AP British and American Literature. All of these classes and activities created a ripple that began to expand its reach deeper, and deeper into my life. The effects of which were both nuanced and life changing.
I found role models in my art teachers and their seemingly never-ending passion for their craft, and dedication to their students. What other public high school had the privilege of working with art teachers who were also professional artists? I saw fellow students engaged in ways that no other subject had previously interested them. The communities that resulted, were built on understanding, thoughtfulness, and non-judgment– and become a refuge for many who felt they had no other source of acceptance. Most importantly, these practices created outlets for self-expression, and in turn, helped to develop self-esteem and self worth for my peers as well as myself.
I am currently a practicing artist and the Acting Director of the Reinberger Gallery of the Cleveland Institute of Art. My job is to curate programming that connects with our students and neighboring communities, and to create artwork that I believe contributes to the culture at large. I attribute my career, successes, problem solving skills, and leadership confidence to the strong foundations set by the outstanding arts and liberal arts education programs at SEL schools. I can say with certainty that I would not be the person I am today without these direct influences. You don’t have to look far to find hundreds of research based articles, online and elsewhere, lauding the importance of the arts in an education curriculum. I’m sure you would agree, that given our current climate, one of our best defenses towards hate filled rhetoric, is a robust education in critical thinking and thoughtful questioning. We want to create future citizens who care about their community, have the courage to question authority, generate hope in others, and the vision to build a better future. There are no better role models than the art teachers at SEL schools to help shape this future, and it would be a thoughtless shame to ever lose them.
To find out more about Nikki’s work, check out her blog: www.nikkiwoods.com