Arts in Amherst, New York

I have been thinking about the many opportunities for experiencing the arts. Since I am the arts administrator for the Williamsville schools,  I started looking around for the places within the Town of Amherst one could go to find arts performances and/or installations (artwork, museums, etc.). With the help of Google Maps, here is what I have come up with so far:


View Arts in Amherst in a larger map

There are many opportunities in Amherst, and I’m sure there are more, but lets take a look at some of the major categories.

Since I work for one of the public school districts in Amherst, let’s start there. If you check out the calendars for high school arts events in the Amherst, Sweet Home and Williamsville school districts alone, there is enough to keep one busy and thoroughly entertained throughout the year. From concerts, to art shows, to musicals, there is outstanding young talent pouring out of our local schools.

Two diverse and unique museums in the Town of Amherst are the Amherst Museum, located in the very northern tip of the town, and the Museum of disAbility History, located in the southern west corner.

As their website states, you can visit the Amherst Museum to:

Experience 19th-century life on the Niagara Frontier and tour historic homes, churches and one-room schoolhouses on our beautiful 35-acre grounds with exhibits on local history, textiles, art and the Erie Canal.

The Williamsville District Art Show is held annually at the Amherst Museum. It is a great way to show off our talented students and also bring the community to a great venue within the district. I had the opportunity to tour the museum grounds this summer, and was incredibly impressed by the grounds and potential for other performances there. They also have many special events and themes throughout the year that are geared for all ages.

The Museum of disAbility History is:

“…dedicated to the collection, preservation and display of artifacts pertaining to the history of people with disabilities.”

The museum has a unique and important mission and provides many community events to support education about people with disabilities. You can read more about it in this article from the Amherst Bee. The also sponsors the disAbilities Film Festival and Speaker Series, held at UB each year.

In the music arena, The Amherst Symphony Orchestra is a cornerstone in the town. They have an outstanding lineup of concerts each year while in residence at Amherst Middle School. A community group with ages ranging from high school students through seasoned retirees, the ASO is a fantastic group to listen to when you have the opportunity. In addition to their regular concert season, you can find the ASO each summer at the Amherst Museum for their “Music at the Museum” concert.

If theatre is your preference, Amherst is home to at least three theatre companies with regular schedules and performance spaces. Simply by driving down Main Street from West to East, you will pass the MusicalFare Theatre, Academy of Theatre Arts, and O’Connell and Company. These companies provide opportunities for young and old alike to participate in and/or enjoy an array of diverse productions.

A conversation about arts in Amherst would not be complete without reviewing the many resources available in the University at Buffalo (UB). From the flagship Center for the Arts, to Lippes Concert Hall, to the UB Art Gallery, UB is a driving force in the arts community. Since the Center for the Arts opened, it has become a major player in Western New York for attracting top arts events.

So, if you were to lay out an annual calendar and pick just a few events from each of the organizations outlined above, you would find yourself in artful bliss just about every day of the year. In many cases, you would be double- and triple-booked on the same day. Now I am not saying for a moment that one should stay within the limits of the Town of Amherst for great arts. My point is to simply take stock of the multitude of opportunities within a few minutes of the front door.

I can’t wait to soak up some great arts in Amherst!

The Arts in Education – A Look at the Next Few Years

I am a firm believer in the core role the Arts play in developing critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity and innovation (see this report from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills organization). In light of the impending changes due to budgetary issues in New York, a new teacher appraisal process, and the national focus on the Common Core State Standards, three items stand out as a testament to the continuing need for Arts in the schools.

The first item I want to address is the coming Common Core State Standards. In a talk to a group of New York State Education Department (NYSED) stakeholders, Davide Coleman reflected on the role of the Arts:

“Rather than looking at how the Arts can serve literacy, I want to think instead about the special things that the Arts can do that literacy hasn’t been as good at today. You might say what the art teachers can teach the rest of us.”

~David Coleman, Architect of the Common Core State Standards, 28 April 2010

In Coleman’s address to NYSED, he spends a good amount of time outlining what the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) might look like. To see all of his comments related to the Arts, click here. The comments on the Arts begin at 11:00 in the video clip. Click here to see the full video (worth the 2 hours) or here for the full transcript.

Colemean attests to the central role Arts should play in school. I think this is reflected in NYSED’s timeline for implementing the CCSS. The timeline specifically addressees how the standards will be rolled out first in ELA, Math, and the Arts. Click here to see the timeline.

The second item I would like to address is the National Arts Policy Roundtable report, The Role of the Arts in Educating America for Great Leadership and Economic Strength. The group that produced the report represents a diverse international group of artists and thinkers who convene at the Sundance Institute. In the introduction to the report, the co-conveners Robert Lynch and Robert Redford state:

“The arts are not only what is needed to reform education—they can transform it.”

~Robert Lynch & Robert Redford, Co-conveners of the National Arts Policy Roundtable

The report does an excellent job of outlining Arts education forces around the world, including UNESCO. Reference is specifically made to the Seoul Agenda, which was UNESCO’s World Conference on Arts Education in 2010. The section of the report, Your Brain on the Arts, provides specific examples of research on brain development and the Arts.

The third item I would like to address is a report released recently by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, Reinvesting in Arts Education: Winning America’s Future Through Creative Schools. What I like particularly about this report are the recommendations on how to further promote and integrate Arts in schools, in the face of changing policy and reduced funding. The recommendations are:

1. Build collaborations among different approaches [to Arts education].
2. Develop the field of Arts integration.
3. Expand in-school opportunities for teaching artists.
4. Utilize federal and state policies to reinforce the place of Arts in K-12 education.
5. Widen the focus of evidence gathering about Arts education.

The report goes in-depth in providing specific examples and building the case for the above action steps. I think it is a very concrete road map to focus on what is important in Arts education, and how to support and promote Arts in the schools.

Let me finish by saying that Williamsville has a long-standing tradition of supporting a wide variety of Arts programs, both in and outside the curriculum. The next few years will be challenging to the district, as it will be for all New York State schools, while we implement the Regents’ Reform Agenda and face severe budget issues. Perhaps the recommendations from the President’s Committee can help the conversations as we proceed.

One thing I can say for sure is that I am thrilled to be working in a district that has an exemplary model for Arts education, and am looking forward to working with our great staff as we continue the important work of Arts education.