First Lady Michelle Obama spoke about the importance of arts education Wednesday at the Grammy Museum’s Jane Ortner Education Award Luncheon, emphatically declaring “we cannot be satisfied until every child has some exposure to the arts.”
Noting 6 million American school children have no music or arts classes in the schools, Obama said “you all have an abundance of riches here in Los Angeles and yes, we do we have a pretty big platform at the White House. But let’s not forget there are symphonies and theaters and museums and with every exhibit and performance folks should be asking themselves how can we get those kids in there? How can we get the artists and performers to connect with young people in those communities? In other words, every arts organization in the country should be embracing the mission of the Grammy Museum.”
The event, held at Club Nokia in the downtown L.A. Live complex, honored Janelle Monae and teacher Sunshine Cavalluzzi for their efforts in teaching and mentoring young people. Calluzzi, a teacher at El Dorado High School in Placentia, Calif., uses music to teach subjects such as economics; Monae has been active participant in the Grammy Museum’s educational efforts.
Monae reflected on her youth in Kansas City, Kan., where “music helped me deal with my emotions. I was able to write a song or perform or write a short story,” she said, before thanking her fifth grade teacher, a music teacher and her mother who drove her to countless talent shows.
“Keep educating through music,” Monae said before closing the afternoon with a four-song set of “Sincerely Jane,” Queen,” “Tightrope” and a cover of James Brown’s “I Got You (I Feel Good).” “I hope we have more mentors than superstars. I’m happy to have mentors in Stevie Wonder and Prince.”
Monae’s speech followed comments from Recording Academy president and CEO Neil Portnow and Grammy Museum executive director Bob Santelli, who discussed the museum-sponsored trips to the White House for nearly 1,000 students and the programs that bring students face-to-face with musicians.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, a pianist who just recently moved an upright piano into his office, said the city is looking to bring a music program from Mexico, based on Venezuela’s Las Sistema, into public schools in the near future.
“The arts shouldn’t be isolated,” Garcetti told a room that included Virgin Records chief creative officer Ron Fair, CBS Entertainment executive VP Jack Sussman and singer Faith Evans. “We should strive to build a connection to enhance cultural understanding and inspire high-level thinking. We can do it better when we do it through the arts.”
Obama also discussed the White House workshops and performances, which have included Smokey Robinson, Patti LaBelle, John Legend and Melissa Etheridge.
“So many of the young people walk away transformed with a new sense of purpose and hope,” she said. “Engagement in the arts can unlock a world of possibilities for our young people. … For many young people, arts education is the only reason they get out of bed in the morning, just like Janelle.”
“We need to be thinking about the young people who will never have these opportunities. Think about how that must feel. Think about what that means for our communities. … The arts are a way to channel pain into something meaningful and productive. Every human being needs that, particularly our kids.”
The Jane Ortner Education Award, named for the late wife of Grammy Museum board member Chuck Ortner, has been given out three times prior though Wednesdays event was the first luncheon. The event’s sponsors included the Ray Charles Foundation, AEG, CBS, the law firms Greenberg Traurig and Ziffren Brittenham, Clive Davis, Live Nation, Fair, Arthur Fogel, Primary Wave Music, Universal Music Publishing Group and the RIAA.