I’m Not Throwing Away My Shot

For the last few years, I’ve resisted the hype over the Broadway show, Hamilton.  After all how can one play be that good, that transformational?

While I still haven’t seen it, Santa Claus did place, the cast recording in my daughter’s stocking.  And from the music alone, I can say definitively that I was wrong.

It is a masterpiece on many levels – a historical primer on our nation’s founding and a paragon for using music and art to entertain and educate.

But perhaps most important, it is a moving and nuanced illustration of the challenges and glories when trying to rise in America that are as true today as they were over two hundred years ago when our country was founded.  

Recently I read an article critical of an initiative designed to give over 100,000 children from low-income homes the chance to see Hamilton. Despite the fact that it had a built-in curriculum where students would use art to explore a piece of history or a social issue, it was viewed as a luxury – when these funds could have gone to provide these same children with more “fundamental” needs. 

It signaled to me a lack of appreciation for how transformative a single exposure to a work of art can be in the trajectory of a youth. Yes it may exist in a singular moment of time, but the impact of that moment can reverberate for the rest of our lives.

Generally, we can probably all point to a book, song, play or other work of art that “changed us.”  

Now imagine, you come from a poor neighborhood and someone hands you a ticket to Hamilton. You take your ticket that people have told you others are paying a thousand dollars for and you watch a story about another poor kid who is trying to find his way.  He takes his shot. Sometimes succeeding but also failing – both in epic proportion. You are mesmerized by the music and the story. Later, members of the cast talk with you about what they learned in taking “their shot”. Finally, they tell you that you have something worth saying and show you how to start “taking your shot” by creating something that may be performed before a Hamilton matinee.

Now tell me how that does not fill a “fundamental need”?

It is not a meal but it nourishes.
It is not shelter but it provides warmth.
It is not school but it teaches.
It is not transportation but it provides direction.

Often we think we have to give kids the basics in order to have any shot in life. And this may be true.  But it is equally valuable to show them lessons learned through the examples of others and inspire them to have the confidence needed to take their shot when the time comes.

If we don’t, they won’t be throwing away their shot, we will. 

So take a shot at investing in arts education.

If you need a little extra inspiration, listen to “My Shot” from Hamilton.   

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