This spring, we turn to a number of community leaders to explain how the arts intersect with their work. This series is leading up to the “ABC 50/50” campaign set for April 26-28: Look for exciting details to come regarding Arts Benefit Children (ABC)!
Today’s article is the first in this community-based series, featuring Ed Clark, Superintendent of the Gettysburg National Military Park and Eisenhower National Historic Site.
The Adams County Arts Council’s mission is to cultivate an arts-rich community. We believe the arts have the ability to transform lives, to touch everyone’s daily life. As a community leader, what role do the arts play in your daily life?
Clark: New and expanded arts programming is helping us find ways to connect with new audiences in our communities and across the country. Our vision at Gettysburg and Eisenhower national parks is to provide memorable experiences for our visitors so that when they leave, they tell others to come here, and tell their sons and daughters how important these places are. We can’t preserve these parks for future generations all on our own.
Artwork, in the form of sculptures and monuments, surround you at Gettysburg National Military Park. Do you have a particular sculpture or sculptures that you find especially inspiring? Share any stories or personal insights you’d like.
Clark: While I don’t have a favorite monument, I do have one that stands out for me as a transformational moment, and a memory I’ll always have. I can remember standing in tall grass near the Virginia Monument, staring out past the Emmitsburg Road, listening to my father wondering aloud about General Lee’s fateful decision to launch the frontal assault of July 3, 1863. I was transformed. Through the fences and expansive fields, I could picture what my ancestors must have seen at the copse of trees. As I crossed that field, I was walking in their footsteps. That’s a moment for me, rooted right at the base of a Gettysburg monument, helping to form a deep appreciation of history and its modern connections and importance.
I understand Gettysburg National Military Park and Eisenhower National Historic Site have a number of upcoming art-related events such as the Artists-In-Residence program, and the June 2016 opening of the temporary exhibit, “With Brush, Mold, Chisel, and Pen: Reflections on Civil War Art.” Why is it important to integrate art with your programming?
Clark: We’ve joined more than 50 Artists-in-Residence programs in national parks across the country. By focusing on arts programs we can find new expressions of the park experience and find fresh perspectives that showcase the meaning of the parks.
Throughout 2016, the Centennial year for the National Park Service, we’re creating events and programs that engage with and create the next generation of visitors, supporters, and advocates. Our exhibit, “With Brush, Mold, Chisel, and Pen: Reflections on Civil War Art,” opening June 29, is a big part of the effort, as is our First Friday events at the Train Station and the popular “Presidential Paint and Wine Night” programs at the Eisenhower site.
The Arts Council is holding an online fundraiser this April, to support a scholarship fund to help Adams County children attend summer arts camps. What role do you feel arts education plays in children’s development?
Clark: Our parks are a great place to come to learn about history of course, but you can also learn lessons in communication and arts (Gettysburg Address and monument dedication speeches, for example); about character education (leadership, citizenship, courage etc.); and about science and nature (geology at Devil’s Den, engineering etc.).
At Gettysburg, the arts are all around us through the monuments, as well as the paintings and photographs and poems that the landscape and its history has inspired.
As far as its role in children’s development, art is about connecting on an emotional level, expression and creativity. The monuments express all kinds of sentiments that the veterans wanted future generations to remember. Children learn how to create and express through art, and also how to see and interpret the art of others, thereby improving their critical thinking skills. Art can make difficult, or more complex concepts accessible.
Do you feel that history and art face a similar uphill battle today, trying to remain relevant and alive?
Clark: Art is a fundamental way that people connect with the parks. The lessons of leadership, bravery, conduct, recovery and resilience that can be learned on the battlefield at Gettysburg, in the cemetery, and at the Eisenhower farm are lessons that have value in our lives, from the first grade, right on through. We’re overflowing with inspiring stories – our challenge is always to continue to work on making the connections to our audiences. Arts programming helps us make those connections.
Feel free to share any additional thoughts on the “power” of the arts…
Clark: Just as Gettysburg is a civil war destination it is also really an arts destination – with everything we have from the monuments, to the Cyclorama painting, to the incredible works of art in our collection and President Eisenhower’s dedication to art in his later years.
We often talk about Gettysburg as having the “power of place.” I’ve seen that power: people visibly, emotionally moved while looking at the Cyclorama painting, for example. We’re excited to be using multiple media and techniques to create memorable experiences that visitors will take with them, hopefully transforming them.
We hope you join us online, to transform and enrich the lives of area children, April 26-28, for ABC: 50/50 (Arts Benefit Children). This is the 3rd annual ABC event, which has proven to be a successful event with great community support for which we (and many area families) are extremely thankful. It has also proven to be an essential event, supporting scholarships that have allowed dozens of area children to attend summer arts camps as well as arts classes throughout the year. Stay tuned for more details on the upcoming 2016 event!