This post is part of our “Broadening and Diversifying the Leadership Pipeline” blog salon for National Arts in Education Week 2018.

The New Jersey State Teen Arts Festival celebrated the third year of its revival this past spring at Ocean County College in Toms River. Thousands of students and teachers from 18 counties gathered with professional artists for the three-day statewide arts festival, to celebrate the important role the arts play in enriching all of New Jersey. This year’s festival was a great success, reaching 3,500 students and 400 educators in attendance.

This artistic, educational, and community-driven event was powered by the generous support of the Jay and Linda Grunin Foundation, New Jersey Education Association, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, New Jersey Resources, and the New Jersey State Council of the Arts. The operation of the New Jersey State Teen Arts Festival is made possible through collaboration between the Arts and Education Center and Ocean County College.

At the center of the New Jersey State Teen Arts Festival programming are the showcases and displays of student creative work. The students that present at the State Festival are selected as the exemplary representatives of the outstanding artistic talent blossoming all throughout New Jersey’s local communities. The gifted and talented students who showcase and display their creative work are selected from amongst thousands of students who present creative work on the local level at county festivals across the state during the months of March, April, and May.

Artists representing the literary, performing, and visual arts served as adjudicators for student work at the festival. They shared their seasoned perspectives with the students to encourage, motivate, and inspire them to continue their creative journeys wherever they may go professionally or personally. Students were also offered intensive workshops from artists specializing in puppetry, ceramics, juggling, hip-hop dance, and many other art forms. These workshops offered students and teachers the chance to expand their creative imaginations.

A college fair with representatives from the top career-focused arts schools and professional development workshops for teachers accompanied the festival. Guest performances during lunch at the daily ceremony in the Larson Student Center enhanced the celebratory atmosphere.

The universal language of the arts

The arts transcend nation, language and culture. An individual, whether from the United States or Japan, can be moved and inspired by the same piece of artwork. This opens doors for large communities of people to share universal understandings even though they may not recite the same alphabet, have the same culture, or celebrate the same holidays.

Creating a universal language to communicate our inner expressions has an almost magical effect only the arts can achieve. The world cherishes the historical artifacts of the ancient Egyptian and Roman empires, among others, for a reason. For millions around the world today, the creative efforts of these great civilizations communicate the perspectives of ancient leaders.

The ancient Egyptians used art as the ultimate tool to convey the perspective of the pharaohs. Art was a symbol of power in the ancient world. The hieroglyphs, wall etchings, and statues strategically placed throughout Egypt were crafted so that all classes and languages of the ancient kingdom would be able to understand what was being expressed.

The Roman Empire is famous for its architecture, particularly the Colosseum, which was a hub of the empire developed to bring people of all different classes in the ancient society together. It should not be seen as coincidence that the Colosseum was built in the round to focus toward a central circular stage. Rather, the circular design of this famous Roman amphitheater can be seen as political tool of the empire to create unity among the diverse citizens of ancient Rome by bringing them together as a collective group of equals in a social forum. Even today, art can make us all feel equal even for only the moment in which we share the experience of it, including the buildings we inhabit. Structures can transcend the simple purpose of shelter and gathering, and are a great example of how art is in every way a part of everyone’s everyday life.

Communication and expression

To truly connect with each other, we must communicate and express our worldview. Expression is the fuel that drives people to create art. Indeed, behind everything we do there is a desire to connect with others and communicate our expressions. Once we understand that connection and expression are muses for all of humanity, we realize that all people are artistic in their own right, whether crafting the wording in a memo for work, deciding what shirt to wear, or selecting the food to cook for dinner. Every day, people make decisions centered on their connection to something or someone. The action a person takes to make that connection is representative of what he or she wishes to express.

Thus, all people are creative even when they think they are simply writing that work memo. The intention to connect with the outside world and express a message to others effectively is an art in and of itself.

When our world becomes an ancient world for future generations, the artifacts we leave behind will embody the memories of our accomplishments as a people. A great piece of architecture or a painting speaks volumes more than a history book. Art is not a luxury but rather it is a necessary part of the human condition and instinct.