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Luminaries in Convention City Advocate for Arts Education

Charlotte, N.C.

Who would have guessed that former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, based on her drumming chops, got the nickname "Sticks"?

Albright revealed this particular tidbit at Arts Speak, an event at the Democratic National Convention Tuesday afternoon hosted by the Americans for the Arts Action Fund. Joining in the discussion were former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley (who served under former President Bill Clinton); Bob Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts; Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former basketball player for the Phoenix Suns; and Bernie Williams, a former centerfielder for the New York Yankees, who is also a recording artist on the guitar.

Arts Speak held a similar event at the Republican Convention in Tampa that included former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Calling arts the "secret weapons" for the U.S. in various policy areas, Lynch added, "We need to make it less secret."

Riley in particular identified a noteworthy connection between arts education and a supposedly different area of education policy, the Common Core State Standards in English and math (adopted by all but four states). He said that the ability of states, under President Barack Obama, to use the common core in their own unique ways paralleled the creativity that arts education in schools nurtures. The exciting ideas driving the common core, he said, would in turn help the arts and students could be "turned loose."

"His key word is innovation," Riley said of Obama.

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On an international level, Albright said that she considered some of America's greatest exports to be in the arts. She cited the example of dissidents in Czechoslovakia in the 1960s who used jazz as an inspiration for their movement.

"Under diplomacy, I thought that cultural diplomacy was a very important part of the toolbox," Albright said.

Johnson highlighted his city's "Any Given Child" initiative, a partnership with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, in Washington, that guarantees access to arts education for 53,000 Sacramento students with the help of the city's business community.

"When you have arts education, kids come to school more ... kids come to school when they can express themselves," he said.

But the speakers also spoke about the broad economic importance of the arts. Johnson, for example, said Sacramento business leaders told him to discuss the jobs that arts can create.

Linda Carlisle, secretary of North Carolina's cultural resources department, said a 2009 study showed that the state had almost 300,000 people employed in the creative-industry sector, with an subsequent economic impact of $41 billion a year.

When a state legislator told her recently that he didn't "love" the arts, Carlisle said she replied: "I don't care. What I do care is that you value the arts."

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