Playbill Q+A with First Lady Michelle Obama
The following Q & A was featured on Playbill.com in conjunction with today’s Turnaround Arts Talent Show. You can read the full article here.
Theatre and the arts are often seen as extracurricular activities. Since launching Turnaround Arts, you’ve seen how the introduction of arts within schools completely changes the environment. Attendance, behavior, grades and parental engagement are all positively affected. Why do you think the arts have the ability to achieve this?
Michelle Obama: We’ve been blown away by the impact the Turnaround Arts program has had on schools across the country. Class attendance is way up; math scores have risen by an average of more than 20 percent; and reading scores have improved by more than 10 percent.
But when you think about it, that’s not all that surprising. After all, the research clearly shows that kids who are involved in the arts have better grades and fewer behavioral problems, and they’re more likely to graduate and go to college. For so many of these kids, their engagement in the arts is what gets them out of bed in the morning. It gives them something to look forward to. And while they might show up to school every day because they’re excited about their art, music or theatre class, once they’re in those seats, we can teach them math, reading and science—and we can use the arts to get them excited about those subjects, so they’ll improve their academic performance as well.
That’s why I’m so thrilled that the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities will be forging a new partnership with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to implement and expand the Turnaround Arts program. The Kennedy Center will be bringing its world-renowned arts education programming to even more schools—and even more students—across the country. I am so grateful to the Kennedy Center for making this commitment, and I cannot wait to see all the young people they engage and inspire and all the schools they help transform.
What kind of artistic legacy do you want to leave behind?
Michelle Obama: One of my goals as First Lady has been to open the doors of the White House as wide as possible and showcase a variety of American art forms. Over the years, we’ve hosted all kinds of performances—including country, jazz, modern dance, Broadway show tunes, and more – just about any genre you can imagine, we’ve had it at the White House.
And when we host these performances, we ask performers to come a few hours early and run workshops for young people, particularly kids from underserved communities who wouldn’t normally have a chance to visit the White House. More than anything else, that’s the artistic legacy I want to leave behind—a legacy of openness, inclusion and inspiration for our young people.
You’ve spoken about your passion for theatre—and you’ve hosted theatre performances, including by the cast of Hamilton, at the White House. What is it about the power of theatre that made it something you wanted to highlight and share with young people?
Michelle Obama: I had the privilege of seeing the Off-Broadway version of Hamilton last year, and I loved every minute of it. The cast was extraordinary—some of the most talented, diverse performers you’ll ever see. And they really made history come alive, revealing all the intrigue, heartbreak, drama and glory that run through our past and showing us how the folks in our textbooks were real people with real talents, but also real flaws.
I was so excited to share the magic of Hamilton with young people, because I believe that this is how history should be taught. And I wanted to get them excited about learning about our nation’s past—I wanted to light a spark in them so that they would walk away eager to learn more.
And just as important, I wanted to expose more young people to the power of theatre, because so often, our kids just don’t have access to it, or their families simply can’t afford it. Lin-Manuel [Miranda], the creator of Hamilton, and the cast and crew have done so much to bring the show and its lessons to young people from all different backgrounds, and I would love to see more efforts like that all across the country.
What would you like to see every-day citizens doing to help foster the arts within their own communities? Are there ways—ranging from the individual to big businesses—that we can get involved and make a difference?
Michelle Obama: I think the Turnaround Arts program offers a perfect example of the many ways people can support the arts in their communities. That program is a real team effort—everyone plays a role, from teachers embracing the arts in their classrooms, to parents encouraging their kids to get involved, to businesses that donate money and supplies.
People across the country can also do their part by standing up and speaking out for the arts. When you hear that the schools in your community are cutting arts programming, write a letter in your local newspaper or show up for a school board meeting to push back. Encourage local businesses to help support arts education. And be sure to show up for as many performances, exhibits and concerts as you can—every ticket sold and seat filled makes a difference.