Remarks by the First Lady and the President at Turnaround Arts Talent Show
3:00 P.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Yay! (Applause.) Yes! We’re going to have a show! (Applause.) Thank you all so much. Rest yourselves. I am beyond thrilled to welcome you all here today for the first ever White House Turnaround Arts Talent Show. (Applause.) We’re putting on a show!
I want to start by recognizing the stars of today’s show, our fabulous student performers. We are all so proud of you! (Applause.)
I also want to thank the National Endowment for the Arts and the Department of Education for their partnership on the Turnaround Arts program, and I want to thank Kathy Fletcher for her leadership of this program. (Applause.) And I want to recognize the extraordinary companies and foundations who are funding and advising this effort. We absolutely could not do this without you. You all are amazing.
And of course, most of all, I want to thank the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, PCAH -- I’ll say that instead of saying the longer. Thanks to my favorite people in the world, the PCAH co-chairs, George Stevens and Margo Lion -- well done. (Applause.) And George Wolfe and Damian Woetzel who are co-directing today’s event. (Applause.) And Rachel -- where’s Rachel Goslins, who is our -- there you are. (Applause.) Our amazing Executive Director of PCAH. She is awesome. Love you. Well done. And thanks to all of the PCAH members who have truly gone above and beyond every step of the way.
Now, as many of you know, three years ago, the members of the PCAH came up with an audacious idea, and they decided they wanted to use arts education to turn around struggling schools. They wanted to bring in art supplies and instruments and teacher training, and they wanted to convince famous artists to adopt these schools and help them transform over a two-year period of time.
And we all know the statistics when it comes to the power of the arts in education. We know that kids who get involved in the arts have higher grades, higher graduation rates, higher college enrollment rates. I could go on and on and on. You all know this. But the thing is, the schools that the PCAH chose for this effort were literally some of the most underperforming schools in the country -- schools with rock bottom test scores, rampant disciplinary problems, high teacher turnover, and low parent engagement.
And with so many pressing challenges, as you might imagine, bringing the arts to these schools wasn’t necessarily at the top of their priority list. So we were careful to manage our expectations. We didn’t let ourselves get too excited about what we could accomplish.
And I am very proud to say that today, three years later, the Turnaround Arts program has exceeded not just our expectations, but our wildest hopes and dreams. This has been amazing. With the help of this program and some School Improvement Grants, math and reading scores have gone up in these schools, attendance is up, enrollment is up, parent engagement is up, suspensions have plummeted, and two of the schools in our pilot improved so dramatically that they are no longer in turnaround status. That’s amazing. (Applause.) It’s amazing. Amazing.
And today, the students in these schools are engaged in their education like never before, and that’s really the point. It’s about their education. For example -- (applause.) Yes. (Laughter and applause.) See, they know what it’s about. For example, students in Denver are learning geometry by studying cubism and using digital arts skills to create 3D pop-up books. Students in Bridgeport have a school band for the first time in 17 years, and they have 100 percent of their teachers -- 100 percent -- that are integrating the arts into their classrooms. (Applause.) Students in New Orleans are displaying their artwork in local coffee shops and galleries, and they’ve even created their own play about the alphabet.
And then there’s the story of Orchard Gardens School that’s in Boston. (Applause.) Is Orchard Gardens here? (Laughter and applause.) Okay, just checking. (Laughter.) Well, let me tell you a little bit about this fabulous school. This school had had six principals in seven years, their teacher turnover rate was over 50 percent, and their test scores were among the lowest in the state. But they had a principal who believed in the power of the arts. So that individual replaced the school’s security guards with five full-time arts and music teachers. And today, Orchard Gardens is known as one of the most improved schools in the entire state of Massachusetts. (Applause.) Say, oh, yes, we can!
AUDIENCE: Oh, yes, we can!
MRS. OBAMA: Oh yeah. (Laughter.) So it is clear that the Turnaround Arts pilot program has been an overwhelming success. And that’s why today I am thrilled to announce that we will be quadrupling the size of this program.
So this fall, we’re going to be adding a total of 35 schools in 11 states, and well over 10,000 more students will finally have access to arts education. This is huge. It’s huge and it’s exciting. (Applause.)
But as we celebrate this expansion today, I’m also thinking about the kids who aren’t among the lucky few to attend a Turnaround Arts school. I’m thinking about the 6 million children in America who don’t have a single art or music class in their schools. I am thinking about the millions more who have only minimal exposure to the arts. The vast majority of these kids attend the highest-need schools -- schools with crumbling classrooms, less experienced teachers, and technology that lags years behind. So, too often, the kids who need arts education the most are getting it the least.
So as you watch these children performing on this stage here today, I just want everyone who is focusing on this event, I want you to think about what their lives would be like if they didn’t have this opportunity. Just think about that. Think about the kind of trajectory they might be on. And to inform your thinking, I want you to consider this fact -- that when high school dropouts were asked why they decided to leave school, one of their top reasons was that they simply weren’t interested in their classes, so they just couldn’t see the point of showing up.
And that is precisely where arts education comes in. That’s why so many children get out of bed each morning. It’s because of the arts. They do it because they’re thinking about the musical that they’re going to act in. They’re focused on the painting that they’ve been working on, the instrument that they’re so excited to get their hands on. And then once we got those kids in those seats, then we can teach them math and reading and science. For many, arts is the hook. But if they’re not in those seats, then we can’t teach them anything at all.
So the bottom line here is very clear: Arts education isn’t something we add on after we’ve achieved other priorities like raising test scores and getting kids into college. It’s actually critical for achieving those priorities in the first place. That’s what the Turnaround Arts program is all about. (Applause.) And that’s also what my new Reach Higher initiative is about. It’s about encouraging every young person -- are you listening?
MRS. OBAMA: -- every young person to commit to school and complete their education beyond high school. Okay? Beyond high school. A high school diploma is not enough.
AUDIENCE MEMBERS: Okay.
MRS. OBAMA: All right. (Laughter.) We didn’t plan this. (Laughter.) And I know that arts education is an important part of achieving these goals.
So that’s why I am so passionate about this. Plus, the kids are just so talented. So I want to once again thank the members of the PCAH for bringing the Turnaround Arts program to life. From the very beginning, they have been one of the most engaged by far and effective committees by far here at the White House. You guys are blowing it out. They haven’t just lent their names to this effort, they have poured their hearts and souls into this effort. Kerry Washington danced the lindy hop with the entire fourth grade class at her school. I was there. I saw it. Sarah Jessica Parker hosted her school musical’s cast party remotely.
And I could go on and on. There are so many other stories just like these. So I want to take this moment to recognize all of the turnaround artists who have made this program such a success. I want to recognize all the artists here today who’ve committed to working in these schools over the next two years. I want you all to stand so that we can give you all a round of applause, all of you. (Applause.) And there are so many more -- because for these artists, bringing the arts to our schools just isn’t -- it’s not a volunteer gig for these folks. It’s a mission.
And we all need to have that exact mindset, because arts education should be all of our mission -- not just parents and teachers and administrators, but businesses and foundations and concerned citizens who care about the future of our children. It’s certainly part of our mission here at the White House as well. And that’s why we’ve hosted all kinds of events and youth workshops on everything from poetry to dance to classical music.
And we need as many people as possible to join this effort. We really do. We need more artists, we need more resources. We need more teachers and administrators who are willing to embrace the power of arts education in their schools. And we cannot rest until every child in this country has some kind of exposure to the arts in their lives. We can’t stop until every child has the chance to fulfill their boundless promise. And that’s why today’s talent show is going to be so cool. It’s about celebrating that promise and it’s about recommitting ourselves to this vitally important cause.
So it is now my pleasure to turn things over to the brilliant young performers and get this show started. Thank you all so much. (Applause.) We’re going to have a show!
* * * * *
MRS. OBAMA: Everyone, ladies and gentlemen, somebody was able to make it to the talent show. (Applause.) It’s my husband! It’s the President! (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: So I just want to say, I’ve got talent. (Laughter.) I’ve got some talent, but I wasn’t invited to be part of the show. (Laughter.)
This is the First Lady’s outstanding initiative, along with all of you. But I just wanted to come by and say that the arts are central to who we are as a people, and they are central to the success of our kids. This is not an afterthought. This is not something you do because it’s kind of nice to do. It is necessary for these young people to succeed that we promote the arts.
And I hope that events like this help send a message to school districts, and parents, and governors, and leaders all across this country: You’ve got to support the arts. It’s a priority. And you guys were all outstanding.
So congratulations. (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you, honey. That’s how -- you guys, I want all the kids to know just how important you are that the President of the United States came by to tell you how proud he was. (Applause.)
I just want to thank everyone. To all our principals, to all our teachers, to our Turnaround Artists, to our funders -- this wouldn’t be possible without you. Remember what I said early on? Just think about the millions of kids who aren’t being touched by the arts. Look at how much we’re missing. We can’t afford to miss out on any kid’s talent, reaching their -- I have seen these kids from little to -- this little one has grown up so much. And I am so proud of them. But we have to make this a reality for every child in this country. We just have to.
You all, thank you so much. Kids, great job. Well done. You all take care. Have a great afternoon. Keep working hard. (Applause.)
4:15 P.M. EDT