This past Friday I ventured into the School of Education to attend a screening of “Spiral Bound”, a documentary about the importance of arts programs in public school systems. The documentary told the story of Studio 345, a multimedia afterschool learning program in Charlotte, NC that’s mission was to utilize the arts to “promote social justice.”
The film sought to address the issue of funding cuts to arts programs throughout the United States. One study found that there were on average over 8000 dropouts a day in America, but it also showed that high schoolers who participated in the arts were far more likely to graduate. Yet across America, the arts are constantly swept aside while things like standardized testing are being pushed further and further. Studio 345 took issue with that and worked at combatting these statistics right here in North Carolina.
A diverse set of students throughout the Mecklenburg School System attended a six-week course. The purpose of the course was to promote creativity and built character, while allowing students to explore their passions. Students were encouraged to explore mediums such be it photography, music and film. In the six weeks, students spent time creating in the studio, doing team-building exercises on an obstacle course and doing manual labor at a farm. They also engaged with Davidson College and elementary school students, and even visited legislature in Washington, DC.
By the end of the course the students were more confident in their skills, closer as an ensemble, and felt a larger sense of responsibility. The film even made use of their creations, utilizing artwork throughout and showcasing Colleen J. Watson and Marquise Wise’s music as the soundtrack.
The personal journey of rapper Marquise Wise struck me the most out of anything in the film. Marquise was a music student at Studio 345 who had an altercation with the law and was sent to jail during his time in school. While reflecting in prison he realized that music was to him, and that Studio 345 was the first place where he felt like he could explore it at a near-professional level. When he left jail he returned to Studio 345, much to the surprise of everyone there, and immediately increased his work output . He would spend nearly all day recording in the studio when it was available to him. On the off chance that he wasn’t in the studio, he was out finding beats and writing lyrics. The way he spoke made it evident how deep his passion for music, and that it was keeping him from furthering his delinquent behavior that would land him back in jail.
Another student, Morelia Trinidad had faced similar issues, having spent time in juvenile detention after fighting a student that referred to her with a racial slur. She was a prize winning competitive fighter, but opted out of competition to explore film making at Studio 345. To her it felt more important to try something new.
The climax of the film took place in Washington DC. The students visited Kay Hagan and Richard Burr to give them their story and persuade them on the importance of properly funding the arts.The students then visited the board of the Mecklenburg County School System and convinced them to give Studio 345 a grant totalling $350,000.
The kids were ecstatic. This was the first time most of them felt like they truly made a difference, and it made them beam with a confidence that wasn’t present at the beginning of the film.
As someone who has been fortunate to spend all of their formative education in public school in arts, I was already biased to agree with the film. If you have any doubts on funding the arts in public schools, I recommend you watch this film just to see the positive effect it had on these teenager’s lives. You can find the movie at www.spiralboundmovie.com.