An Interview with MENC Executive Director
By Raymond T. Grant
On a warm and beautiful Valentine's Day in the Washington, D.C area, MENC Executive Director Michael Butera sat down in his office in Reston, Virginia to share with Utah Music Educators his vision for arts advocacy. The occasion that brought us together was the annual gathering of the John F. Kennedy Center's Alliance for Arts Education Network (KCAAEN.)
I had the privilege of representing Southern Utah University and its Utah Center for Arts Administration as the newest candidate-representative of the Kennedy Center Alliance.
The political atmosphere in Washington was tense with the reality of major budget cuts to the arts, humanities, and arts education in full swing in both chambers of Congress. The speed to scale back or eliminate funding for arts education is staggering. In too many circles, the arts are still considered a quaint amenity and our advocacy arguments need to be more compelling both in the value for and creation of the arts as well as their role in animating a more creative workforce for America's and Utah's future.
Michael Butera and his gifted staff at MENC know this well and, moving forward, MENC will be a defining resource for Utah's music educators. Butera "speaks truth to power" and refuses to let be compromised the quality of his dreaming.
Journal readers might remember the June 2010 decision by the Salt Lake City Council to eliminate YouthCity Artways, Salt Lake City's arts education program. This is the same program that in 2002, as part of the 2002 Olympic Arts Festival, commissioned the gifted American composer Libby Larson to write an opera with Salt Lake City school children titled "Dreaming Blue." In May, 2010, Larson received the George Peabody Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Music in America.
The June 2010 elimination of this program was closely followed by The Salt Lake Tribune whose editorial board opined that arts education is not a core city service. MENC was the first organization to broadly disseminate the objection Janet Wolf, Elaine Harding and I voiced at the time. When Christina Aguilera slaughtered the lyrics of The National Anthem at Super Bowl XLV on February 6th, Butera receive 480 e-mail messages from outraged music educators. He turned the musical fiasco into an advocacy moment with the National Football League and its commissioner Roger Goodell.
Michael A. Butera became executive director of The National Association of Music Education on May 1 - MENC's first new executive director in 27 years. In his conversation with me and two graduate students from Southern Utah University's graduate program in arts administration, Butera spoke of the power and beauty of music and the role a music education must play in the lives of individuals and the communities in which they live. Butera is a former music teacher who served as the state executive director in three National Education Association state affiliates; Maine, Maryland, and Wisconsin. And, he's a friend of the West having served as the head of the NEA's Western States Government Relations Team.
Butera's championing of future leaders in the arts was evidenced, as well, by the time he gave my graduate students. When asked about his advice on the role of advocacy in music education, he responded "In this business we call advocacy, needed now more than ever, we have no enemies; we have no friends, we have only issues." Arts education is a compelling issue tied to America's competitiveness and is deserving of greater policy coordination.
Even former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice seems to agree. When the former Secretary of State appeared in January at Brigham Young University in a speech to more than 17,000 students, she identified the "disastrous state" of public education in the United States. She believes that we should defend the country by arming children with musical instruments. She went on to say that educational standards must rise to insure the next generation is employable in a global economy. And, returning arts and music to the classroom would help. Brian Maffly reporting for The Salt Lake Tribune quoted Rice as saying "They need the arts." "When I hear music called an 'extracurricular activity,' it makes me cringe because it's part of becoming a well-rounded human being." The value of a music education can lead to a cultural diplomacy.
The comments of Rice, and others like her, need to be collected and diseminated broadly as they help us champion the role that music and the arts play in the lives of Utahns. The value of this advocay is well known by MENC's executive director.
For Utah - the state that created the first arts council - and to Alice Merrill Horne who, in 1899, admonished the state's citizens and leaders to "sustain the artist's talents," let us all "form a more perfect union" through greater advocacy. Southern Utah University stands ready to help.
About the Author:
Raymond T. Grant is Southern Utah University's Distinguished Fellow for Creative Engagement where he directs the Utah Center for Arts Administration. Rachael Cassiday and Leslie Forrester, graduate students in arts administration at SUU, accompanied Grant on his trip to MENC and assisted in the research for this article.
Grant, a licensed music educator in the State of Utah and member of MENC and UMEA, serves as a North American correspondent for the Arts Management Network. He holds a Bachelor of Music Education (BME) degree from the University of Kansas - School of Music and a master's degree in Arts Administration from New York University. He has served as a panel member for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).
Grant has enjoyed a multi-faceted career in the arts, education, business, and creative industries having served as director of the Tisch Center for the Arts and general manager of the American Symphony Orchestra in New York City, executive director of Robert Redford's Sundance Resort, and artistic director of the Olympic Arts Festival for the 19th Olympic Winter Games. He has consulted with and produced events in some of this country's most important cultural and entertainment institutions including Carnegie Hall, Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall, New York's Central Park, the Walt Disney Company, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
About the Utah Center for Arts Administration:
The Utah Center for Arts Administration is a professional organization of the SUU College of Performing and Visual Arts. It provides a wide range of consulting services and training for commercial and not-for-profit cultural organizations, their boards, and managers. The Center champions the role that the arts, education, and culture play in the economic life of all communities. The Center's dedication to Creative and Innovative Engagement affords SUU graduate students the opportunity to use the critical skills they develop at SUU in professional environments. SUU offers the only terminal degree - graduate level program in arts administration in the state of Utah.
Southern Utah University is a comprehensive, regional university offering graduate, baccalaureate, associate and technical programs. From the time of its founding more than 110 years ago, SUU has placed students first by featuring personalized and participative classes, combined with competent, qualified and supportive faculty, staff and administration. People throughout the state look to the University for major academic specialties, economic and business development opportunities and training, skill development, distinguished cultural programs, athletic activities, and regional archives. The University's academic core vision is to be nationally recognized as a premier institution of learning known for enabling its students to honor thought in all its finest forms, achieve excellence in their chosen field, and create positive change in the world.