Blog Post


The gift of the arts 

Liza Zenni, Executive Director of the Arts and Culture Alliance of Greater Knoxville

According to the Josephson Institute for Youth Ethics, someone with character knows the difference between right and wrong and always tries to do what is right. A person of good character sets a good example for everyone and makes the world a better place by living according to the “six pillars of character:”  trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship.  As parents, instilling the tenants of good character within our children is, perhaps, our most important job, and, while there are a number of ways a parent can tackle that challenge, involving children in the arts is one of the most lasting and enjoyable.

We already know that arts and culture activities help kids do better in school, but they also help them do better in life. Participating in arts and culture promotes self-discipline and high self-esteem, two hallmarks of good character. The study Involvement in the Arts and Success in Secondary School found that those kids involved in the arts “earned better grades and scores, were less likely to drop out of school, watched fewer hours of television, were less likely to report boredom in school, had a more positive self-concept, and were more involved in community service.”

“‘For many of the youth…in presenting a play, it may be the first time these young people have been applauded for their efforts.’”

Part of Tennessee’s Migrant and Seasonal Head Start Program, Growing Tennessee, a youth program for older, low-income, at-risk children of Appalachian and migrant workers, offered photography as a vehicle for cultural exchange and creative expression.  Program participant, Liliana Ascencia, 17, says that the program “really helped me a lot. There are a lot of stereotypes that people have about Hispanics, and this program is helping to break down those stereotypes. This program is providing a lot of opportunities, and I’m hoping this will help me get a scholarship for college.”

Bobby Daniels, Development Director of the Nashville-based Project Return, states, “The arts are saving our youth by showing them that there are other worlds to explore and creative avenues to be pursued outside of their neighborhoods and peer-influenced criminal behavior. For many of the youth in the program, in presenting a play, it may be the first time these young people have been applauded for their efforts. The arts program offers a sense of hope and self-responsibility enabling them to shape their own positive destiny. The goal for this program is to prevent the youthful offenders of today from becoming the adult offenders of tomorrow.”

“When asked if students are friendly with other racial groups, students involved in theater are more likely than all 12th graders to say yes to this question.”

Your community or school theater is loaded with potential opportunities for students to interact with others towards whom one might not gravitate in the ordinary course of school life, including students from other economic strata and other racial groups.
When asked if students are friendly with other racial groups, students involved in theater are more likely than all 12th graders to say yes to this question, by 20 to 27 percent.  Students at grade 10 were asked if it was OK to make a racist remark. About 40 percent more kids who were from “no-drama” schools felt that making such a remark would be OK, whereas only about 12 percent of students at schools with drama programs thought the same.

With that in mind, buy one ticket and take up to three kids for free to the Clarence Brown’s production of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol on any Wednesday through Friday, December 5-7, 12-14, 20-21.  All performances begin at 7:30 PM. Call 974-6151 for reservations.

Or, for the same deal, experience the wonder of Modern Dance Primitive Light performing at the Historic Laurel Theatre on December 13 at 8:00 PM or on December 14 and 15 at either 7:00 or 9:00 PM.

Saturday, December 15 at 2:30 PM, when you pay for one adult, up to three children can enjoy a live performance of the classic, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever at Pellissippi State Community College. Call 694-6684 for reservations.
Happy Holidays to you and your fabulous children from Knoxville’s Arts and Culture Industry!

Liza Zenni has been with the Arts & Culture Alliance since 2002. She holds a BA in Theater and a MFA in Arts Administration from the Yale School of Drama. From 1990 to 1995 she was Executive Director of Theatre Bay Area, the largest regional theater service organization in North America.  She and her two daughters live in Oak Ridge, not far from where she grew up.

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