I was born into a family that prized creativity and the arts, where the pursuit of any artistic discipline was supported over acquiring property of any kind. Growing up in New York supported that value system and whether it was a visit to the Met or MOMA, a chamber music concert at the Frick Museum, a concert heard from the fifth tier of Carnegie Hall, a dance concert from the third balcony of City Center, or a play on Broadway for $1.95 in the balcony – they all became an essential part of my life.
I’m not sure when I encountered a bias against the arts – as frivolous and without intellectual or practical merit. It was probably dealing in the political arena during my tenure at the New York State Council on the Arts, where outside of a few exceptionally committed legislators, the arts received little attention and even less funding. The public schools were the first to suffer the diminishing priority and lack of funds. The arts disappeared from the curriculum and, sadder still, the teaching institutions stopped offering training in the arts.
For the past several decades arts advocates have fought back with resources and ingenuity and I am part of the battle scene. Inspired by Dr. Maxine Greene, a mentor who held the John Dewey Chair of Aesthetics at Teachers College, Columbia University, and Agnes Gund, Chairman Emeritus of MOMA, current Chair of P.S.1 and founder of Studio In A School, I found the inspiration to fight for the rights of all children to find self-expression in the arts. Following efforts at school reform from within the system, I have found in The Moth, the acclaimed storytelling organization, an invaluable teaching tool in storytelling that engages students, and gives them a voice and an identity in an otherwise anonymous environment. Thanks to an army of devoted arts advocates and providers representing all arts disciplines, new possibilities are opening to the current generation of students.
Joan D. Firestone. Executive Director, The Moth; former Co-President League of Professional Theatre Women; Independent Producer; former Board Chair, Cherry Lane Theatre; passionate arts advocate in government and education.