Michelle Obama & Janelle Monáe Champion Arts Education At Grammy Museum Fundraiser
First Lady Michelle Obama gave the keynote address during the inaugural Jane Ortner Education Award luncheon fundraiser for the Grammy Museum honoring Janelle Monáe and California high school teacher Sunshine Cavalluzzi. The prize named for the late wife of Grammy Museum board member Chuck Ortner has been awarded three times prior to the first-ever luncheon held this week. Citing the sustained efforts of Monáe and Cavalluzzi, FLOTUS discussed the importance of arts education and its impact on students across the United States during her speech at the event held at L.A.’s Club Nokia:
Studies show that kids who are involved in the arts have higher grades, higher graduation rates, higher college enrollment rates, and when you think about it that’s not really surprising.
Because for so many young people, arts education is the only reason they get up out of bed in the morning. Just like Janelle, they go to school each day because there’s an instrument they want to play, a musical they want to perform in, a painting they are dying to finish. See, and then once they arrive in those classrooms, that’s when we can teach them something else, like math and writing and science.
That is the power of the arts for so many of our young people.
But today as we honor your work to promote arts education and to recognize people like Sunshine and Janelle, we also need to be thinking about all the young people who will never have these opportunities.
Suggesting the arts be considered not just extracurricular enrichment but an integral part of education in our country, the First Lady also noted the severe lack of access to arts and culture that an increasing number of students face.
In this country, we need to be thinking about the 6 million children in this country who don’t have a single art or music class in their schools. So for every Janelle Monae, there are so many young people with so much promise, they never have a chance to develop.
Think about how that must feel for a kid to have so much talent, so much that they want to express, but it’s all bottled up inside because no one ever put the paint brush, or an instrument, or a script into their hand.
It’s about what that means for our communities, all that frustration bottled up. Think about the neighborhoods where so many of our kids live, neighborhoods torn apart by poverty and violence. Those kids have no good opportunity or outlet, so for them, everything that’s bottled up, all that despair and anger and fear, it comes out in all the wrong places. It comes out through guns and gangs and drugs, and the cycle just continues.
But the arts are a way to channel that pain and frustration into something meaningful, productive and beautiful. And every human being needs that–particularly our kids.
Janelle Monáe echoed the First Lady’s statements during a personal testimony about her own experiences, as reported by Billboard:
“music helped me deal with my emotions. I was able to write a song or perform or write a short story,” she said, before thanking her fifth grade teacher, a music teacher and her mother who drove her to countless talent shows.
“Keep educating through music,” Monae said before closing the afternoon with a four-song set of “Sincerely Jane,” Queen,” “Tightrope” and a cover of James Brown’s “I Got You (I Feel Good).” “I hope we have more mentors than superstars. I’m happy to have mentors in Stevie Wonder and Prince.”
Read a full recap of the event + more at grammymuseum.org.