Leeanna Ellis

Leeanna Ellis

Over the last 10 years, fine arts programs in school districts across the country have been cut or severely reduced due to budget issues.

As Common Core — a set of guidelines developed to improve students' readiness for college and the workforce by raising academic standards in math and language — became more prevalent, fine arts again took a back seat.

But these “electives” — band, choir, theater and art — are beneficial to students. Art and music programs can help keep students in school, make them more committed, enhance collaboration, strengthen ties to the community and to their peers and help improve language skills.

Fine arts can also lead students to interests in other studies.

A prime example of this is the Broadway production of “Hamilton: An American Musical.”

Last month, I was fortunate to see the show at the Orpheum during its three-week run in Omaha. Prior to seeing the show, the only history I knew about founding father Alexander Hamilton was he was the first treasury secretary, he was killed in duel and he was on the $10 bill.

After the show, I wanted to learn more about this revolutionary. I have since purchased Ron Chernow's biography of Hamilton, read numerous articles online and watched interview after interview with writer, lyricist and star of the show Lin-Manuel Miranda.

But I'm not alone.

Since the show debuted on Broadway in August 2015, interest in Hamilton has grown. According to a 2016 article by the Associated Press, historic sites connected to Hamilton are getting more visitors than ever before.

Fans of the show are visiting his former home in Harlem, his gravesite and the Schuyler-Hamilton House in Morristown, N.J., where Hamilton courted his wife, Eliza.

“We have 5-year-olds, 16-year-olds, 30-year-olds coming here now,” Pat Sanftner, who gives tours of the Schuyler-Hamilton house, told the Associated Press. “We did not have that audience in our museum before. We had 60-year-olds. It's wonderful to have these conversations now with visitors. We're not just teaching. They're questioning us and they're thinking.”

All this spurred by a musical.

Washington County schools have seen the benefits in fine arts. Blair High School is known across the state for its music, theater and art programs. Arlington students display their talents in show choir, musicals, band concerts and one-act plays. Pioneers for Education, recognizing the need for elementary art, spearheaded the start of a new program, Art After School, last month in Fort Calhoun.

Fine arts programs are necessary and offer opportunities. We need to make sure the music is always there.

Leeanna Ellis is the managing editor of the Washington County Pilot-Tribune and Enterprise and the Arlington Citizen.

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