The arts often get dismissed for not having specific, measurable examples of why they matter. This column couldn’t get any more specific. But it’s just one success story in a sea of successes that simply don’t get communicated about.
My 22-year-old son, Quinn, will graduate in December from the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology with degrees in mathematics, industrial engineering and engineering management and a minor in physics. Clearly, these are impressive degrees, particularly in today’s STEM-driven world.
So it’s not surprising that earlier this month, Quinn was offered a position with Boeing in a Los Angeles suburb. I’m so proud of his early professional success. But my real pride comes in seeing the fruition of something I instinctively knew but couldn’t have articulated as a young mother: the value of infusing the arts into my child’s life.
Quinn has no memory of a time when he wasn’t in and around the arts. He attended his first musical at 8 months old; at 3, he sat through an entire production I was in of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Minnesota State University Moorhead. We participated in a parent-child art class series at Plains Art Museum when he was 4; he started piano lessons at 6 and art classes at 7.
I enthusiastically encouraged his writing, his music, his drawing and all kinds of creativity and invested in as many opportunities as I could afford. I framed his early drawings so that he understood he was an artist. He took violin lessons from Ben Sung and played for six years with the Fargo Moorhead Area Youth Symphonies. He has been Concert Master of his college orchestra. He revived the dormant college newspaper because he wanted to practice more writing.
Both Quinn and I knew early on he wasn’t going to pursue any degree in the arts. So, what was the point of all of this? The point was to develop a complex, thoughtful human being who is equally at home with music and art as with math and science.
It was so he would be a good communicator, a skill lacking in many of our science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professionals. I wanted Quinn to embrace empathy, a larger worldview and a sense of history by being in the arts. The point was to instill in him a love for and understanding of the need to support the arts as an artist and a patron. In short, I set out to create a citizen who embraces the arts as part of his everyday life.
I understood that STEM without the "A" of the arts is a missed opportunity to develop individuals who think creatively and critically, pursue curiosity and are comfortable with ambiguity — qualities we need in the 21st century.
Beyond making an interesting human being, what is the specific fruition of this grand experiment? When they called to offer Quinn the job, they noted that he impressively answered the math and engineering questions. It was his writing and music background, however, that excited them and secured their offer.
Right now, I’m feeling pretty good about how this all worked out.
Dayna Del Val, president and CEO of The Arts Partnership, writes a monthly column for Life. For more information on the arts, go to http://theartspartnership.net.