Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Michelle hearts the Arts in NYC

First Lady Michelle Obama was in my hometown to honor the Arts yesterday

and though much of the NY fashion press coverage was focused on what she wore, like this piece from WWD: Purple Reign: Michelle Obama Makes a Splash at the Met

(she looked stunning in purple)


I was delighted to read that students from local Arts schools were invited to attend the event.  

It’s a testament to Michelle Obama’s power in the art and fashion communities that, in the minutes before she cut the ribbon reopening the Charles Engelhard Court of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s American Wing, a tableaux of New York shuffled into the chairs under the renovated skylights. Walking in along with Aerin Lauder, Annette de la Renta, Ralph Lauren and Wendi Murdoch were several dozen public school students (represented by Beacon High School, Laguardia High School, P.S. 176 and P.S. 325). A few were dressed up — one young man was spotted tucking in his white collared shirt — but many had that artsy kid look: magenta-streaked hair, unlaced high-tops, bedhead hair.

No matter: it was clearly the kids for whom Obama had shown up, though she graciously shook hands with the front row after speaking to the small crowd — a number of well-coiffed, well-heeled donors made up the rest of the audience — about the importance of all-inclusive arts organizations.

LaGuardia High School, was formerly two schools, The High School of Performing Arts and The High School of Music and Arts, which were merged in 1984.


Adjacent to New York’s Lincoln Center for Performing Arts, the building that is now home to LaGuardia Arts was opened in 1984 to bring together two “sister” arts high schools of the day, The High School of Music & Art (started by Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia in 1936) and the High School of Performing Arts, established in 1947. Prior to the building’s completion in 1984, Music & Art (a/k/a “The Castle on the Hill”) was located on Convent Avenue and 135th Street in what has since become part of City College (CCNY)’s South Campus; Performing Arts was located in midtown on 46th Street, both in Manhattan. Mayor La Guardia regarded Music & Art as the “most hopeful accomplishment” of his long administration as mayor.[2]

The movie Fame and the TV Series Fame both dramatized student life at the School of Performing Arts prior to its merger into LaGuardia High School, and an Off-Broadway show of Fame was produced in 2003-2004.

I am a proud alumnus of Music and Art; graduated in 1964.

Notable Alumni from the two schools are a list too long to print here, but my days at M&A included classmates like Laura Nyro.  Leonard Bernstein would guest conduct our orchestra, and Donald Byrd (jazz trumpeter) was teaching jazz.

The AP reports:

NEW YORK (AP) – First lady Michelle Obama spent her second New York City visit emphasizing the crucial role the arts play in our society, reopening part of the American wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Monday and later addressing the crowd at a glittering ballet gala.At both events, Mrs. Obama was greeted with enthusiastic ovations from audiences that included prominent figures in politics, the arts, entertainment and fashion. She stressed the importance of giving young people better access to the arts.

“The arts are not just a nice thing to have or to do if there is free time or if one can afford it,” she said at the museum. “Rather, paintings and poetry, music and fashion, design and dialogue, they all define who we are as a people and provide an account of our history for the next generation.”

“The president and I want to ensure that all children have access to great works of art,” she told a crowd that included students from four New York City public schools that focus on the arts. “We want all children who believe in their talent to see a way to create a future for themselves in the arts community, either as a hobby or as a profession.”

And she reminded the audience that her husband, President Barack Obama, had included an additional $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts in his economic stimulus package.

I am a former panalist for the NEA, the DC Arts Commission and the NYC Arts Council.  Funding for the Arts has been cut back drastically during the Bush years.  Right-wing groups have pushed for arts censorship, affecting the types of grants awarded to arts agencies.  

Music, art, drama, dance are a key part of the fabric of our society.  Sadly, during periods of cutbacks, funding for the arts, and arts teachers are the first to go.  

I hope our FLOTUS will continue to be a voice of support.  My experience at a free, public arts high school changed my life.  Schools like LaGuardia, around the nation are enriching our children.

The NY Times reports:

The first lady seized her moment in the limelight on the grand stage of the Metropolitan Opera House to call on institutions and philanthropists to make the art world readily accessible to children.

She praised the Metropolitan Museum and the American Ballet Theater for involving children of diverse backgrounds in their programs.

“My husband and I believe strongly that arts education is essential for building innovative thinkers who will be our nation’s leaders of tomorrow,” said Mrs. Obama, who introduced a performance by a multiracial cast of young dancers.


As a young girl, I had planned to become a ballerina, studying with the only two black ballet teachers on the east coast in the ’50’s, but the world of ballet was closed to me as a child of color.


(I’m the one on the far left)

I am heartened to see that changed in my lifetime.

During another period of economic duress, President Roosevelt, supported the creation of the WPA Artists Project.

Let us hope that the Arts get as much, or more support during these times.


  1. is not just necessary for the soul, but economically as well.

    Of student athletes, maybe 1% go on to have a career that is involved with their sport–either professionally playing or teaching or somehow involved in that sport.

    20% of kids who are pursue arts education get a job involved in the art of their choosing.

    That alone should be enough to support arts education. It should be the entirety of the argument there. Our galleries, our stages, our movies, our commercial art teams are at the forefront of every developed nation in the world. China, Japan, France, Bolivia, all look to the US as a market of choice, and as innovators. France and Russia have their own very active arts communities, and their own rich history, but the role that the US plays in promotion of the arts across the world is sizable–albeit often with caveats from the folks who think that boobies and butts are too scandalous for folks to see and that lustful dance will inflame the masses…

  2. you were too cute.

    (btw – love the diary and big props to michelle’s championing arts – after all as einstein said, “no problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it.”  

  3. I see that picture of you and your class and I just wanna go home and get those wonderful daddy hugs that only little daughters of a certain size can give.  The daughter of about that size is the artist of our family, I am glad as well that we have some support at the top to keep the options open for her.

  4. A lovely diary – and a timely one. It’s at moments like this, when our material aspirations evaporate, that the immaterial values of the arts become more important.

    Perhaps that’s why, according to Orson Welles’ famous insertion into The Third Man, Italy under the barbaric Borgias created such great art, while peace loving Switzerland only created the cuckoo clock.

    The arts give us sustenance. They provide the values that make us reassess our pursuit of profit and security.

    But I find your picture particularly poignant. That’s not just because you are as cute then as you are now, just a little smaller, but the idea than any of those lovely girls could be denied access to the world of ballet because of their colour just breaks my heart.

    It wasn’t that long ago.

    How far you’ve come. How far we all have to go…

    Thanks again. Un abrazo fuerte

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