Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Arts “define who we are as a people.”

For the first time as our First Lady, Michelle Obama walked out onto the stage at the Metropolitan Opera House and stepped into, as the New York Times put it, "New York’s glittering world of high culture". Mrs Obama was at the Met to open the American Ballet Theatre's season and earlier in the day, she reopened part of the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

In her remarks, she said “The arts are not just a nice thing to have," adding that the arts "define who we are as a people.” According to the New York Times, Mrs. Obama described the nation’s creative spirit as critical to its ideals and its identity, and said the arts needed to be nurtured even during difficult economic times. Let us not forget that it was her husband that included some $50 million in his economic stimulus package for the National Endowment for the Arts.

What I found most interesting about Mrs. Obama's comments was her emphasis on children - and thankfully so! The first lady seized her moment to call on institutions and philanthropists to make the arts readily accessible to children.

She praised both the Metropolitan Museum and the American Ballet Theatre for involving children of diverse backgrounds in their programs saying: “My husband and I believe strongly that arts education is essential for building innovative thinkers who will be our nation’s leaders of tomorrow." Mrs. Obama then introduced a performance by a multiracial cast of young dancers.

As Mrs Obama spoke to the crowd at the museum, there were dozens of public school children there as well. “The president and I want to ensure that all children have access to great works of art . . . This is your place, too,” she told the children.

[Photo - Michelle Obama, right, was introduced by Caroline Kennedy at the American Ballet Theatre Opening Night Spring Gala on Monday. By Timothy A. Clary/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images]

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