Friday, March 6, 2009

25 Random Things: Dramatic Deficit offset by Dad

My father, Wallace Kennedy, is an educator who helped create the first humanities program for high school students in the United States. He taught in Albert Lea, Minnesota with a number of brilliant colleagues: Nick Cords, Jim Swanson, and Orv Gilmore, men who remain his friends today. He directed plays there, on a beautiful classic stage with catwalks, 3 floors of backstage dressing rooms, and a long velvet curtain. My sister Kathy and I would tag along to rehearsals, effortlessly memorizing all the lines and stage business, hanging out at the edges of the action, in the dark front rows of the theater, or just beyond the curtain in the wings.

Passion, Poison and Petrifaction, or the Fatal Gazogene, by George Bernard Shaw starred some very talented Albert Lea youth, including the mesmerizing Pat Wilcox; it won 1st at the Big Nine Theater Festival. The Mouse that Roared by Leonard Wibberley also stands out in my memory – I remember wanting to see every performance, and being dismayed when the show closed. I now find it fascinating that these two works were by Irish writers; I later developed a strong and abiding interest in Irish literature.

In the last years of his teaching career, my father worked at the Arts High School in Golden Valley, Minnesota, now called the Perpich Center for Arts Education. He recently wrote a letter to the Star Tribune, about a different kind of deficit, a failure to understand the importance and value of the arts. Here is his letter:

Letter of the day: Losing the Perpich Center would add to a different deficit • Star Tribune

A Feb. 2 Star Tribune article points out the Perpich Center for Arts Education's struggle to survive as a national model for arts education. It also illustrates the misplaced values of some politicians. The Perpich Center stands alone for its dual instruction in the arts for both teachers and students. This combined service has no other provider should the center not continue. We forget that our most basic ways of knowing are through our own eyes and ears and our moving body -- basic knowledge learned through the arts. Gov. Rudy Perpich was a governor who valued the importance of the arts for basic knowledge. Our current state deficit is not only monetary. Gov. Tim Pawlenty's pledge not to raise taxes declares a value for money to the deficit of Minnesota's best traditions. As citizens we must insist on values that are basic for our children. Sustaining the Perpich Center is sustaining a valued Minnesota tradition.

Wallace Kenedy, Richfield

My dad's passion for the arts (which he shares with my mother) is so adamant and common-sensical – so basic – that we took it for granted in our family. This was a great gift, one that enriches even in difficult times.

Last night I saw Maya Angelou at Indiana University, where she spoke to a nearly full auditorium about the necessity to connect the arts with the sciences, the arts with politics. She talked about her silent years as a child, when she absorbed language by reading Shakespeare and imagining that he must be a young black girl – his emotional state so perfectly described her own. Without a foundation of the arts in the classroom, she said, we run the risk of going mad.

"We need orchestras, children learning to play the flute, the drums. We need poetry, and painting, and intelligent converstation about politics." I wish my father could have been in the audience with me for this; he would have so appreciated Dr. Angelou's spellbinding endorsement of the arts as an educational necessity.

Here is a wonderful photo of my dad, from his recent trip to The Dwelling in the Woods in northern Minnesota. (He is only pretending to sleep, in his favorite chair there.)

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