April 10, 2010
By Donna Hill
40 years ago at the Washington zoo, a little girl stopped to look at a caged bald eagle. When she realized that it had no room to fly and explore, she was filled with sadness. As she gazed into its regal face, a feather fell from its wing.
Some of us would push the sadness away; others would be overwhelmed by it. But this incident happened to Sara Hickman. When the eagle feather landed near the edge of the cage, Sara reached in and took it. Once home, she picked up her new guitar and wrote her first song.
When Sara Hickman sang about the bald eagle and how it needs “to fly forever free “on stage at school in Houston, Texas, she won an award from the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). She was eight years old. Sara has never stopped writing about her world and trying to make it a better place.
Creative Arts: an Endangered Human Essential
Expressing emotionally poignant experiences, beauty, injustice and fear through art, creative writing, music and theater is a latent ability widespread throughout humanity. It’s not surprising that Sara – with a painting professor as a father and a fiber artist as a mother – had creative outlets. But, for many, the creative arts are being squeezed out of our ever more hectic and commercialized lives.
Parents have long assumed that their children would receive instruction in the arts at school. However, these subjects, now viewed as “nonessential” are increasingly the casualties of tighter and tighter budgets.
“Texas arts funding has been slashed,” explains singer-songwriter, certified parenting instructor and mom Sara Hickman, “which leads to kids being denied accessible art, music, creative writing and theatre in schools.”
These cuts did not start as a reaction to the 2008-9 recession, nor are they limited to poorer school districts. In “Affluent Southlake, Texas, School District Cuts Art, Music Programs” (April 11, 2004), Terry Webster, (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News) reported that the Carroll School District school board had cut half the arts programs in kindergarten through sixth grades.
But, are the arts non-essential? Studies dating back to the 1970s suggest that students who receive music education achieve higher scores in standardized tests. The results have been confirmed by more recent research, controlling for socioeconomic variables, including Daryl W. Kinney’s 2008 study (republished by Britannica online) “Selected Demographic Variables, School Music Participation, and Achievement Test Scores of Urban Middle School Students.”
In 2007, Christopher Johnson, University of Kansas professor of music education and music therapy and associate dean of the School of Fine Arts released a study showing that the quality of the music education program matters. His findings are discussed in the 2007 university news release “KU Professor Finds Link Between Music Programs, Academic Achievement.”
“We were looking at the effects that exceptional and substandard music teaching could have on standardized test scores,” says Johnson in the news release, “We found there were significant differences between good programs and bad in both reading and math scores.”
Even so, students participating in poor quality music programs faired better in Johnson’s study than those receiving no music education.
Texas Songwriter Uses Honor to Boost Creative Arts
“My belief,” says Sara, “is that, if kids aren´t learning creativity in schools, most likely, they aren´t learning it at home either.”
Hickman (47, Austin), who has received numerous awards for her music and community service, is tackling the problem. In May, she replaces Willie Nelson as Official State Musician of Texas (2010-11). Her mission is to encourage families to make creative arts a regular part of their lives.
“I decided to use my year to create an explosion with the concept ‘Family Time Rocks!'” explains Hickman, who holds a B.A. in fine arts from the University of North Texas in Denton, “and help families ‘create together so they can be great together!'”
Sara envisions a world in which “families flourish through their creative connections.” She intends to demonstrate the power of art to strengthen families to the Texas legislature, “so we can win legislative support for arts.”
Working with Parents & Children: Nothing New for Sara Hickman
Sara attended Houston’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts as a vocal major. It was there, as she began to perform at a wide variety of venues from bank openings and weddings to pizza parlors and psychiatric units for other teenagers, that she discovered that she loves working with children.
Initially, Sara planned to become an art director. After graduating from college in 1986, however, her plans changed. She was gathering a following from her club performances and decided to pursue her dream of being a recording artist. She offers free downloads of her music at: http://www.sarahickman.com
Sara started with several adult recordings, both as an independent artist and for labels including Windham Hill and Electra. Then, while teaching “Redirecting Children’s Behavior,” she was inspired to produce a series of recordings for parents. Many of the parents she met had no confidence in their ability to be spontaneous and creative with their children. In 2000, Sara self-produced her first children’s album Newborn, a collection of songs to sing to babies.
Two more CDs for parents and kids followed, as her own daughters (9 and 13) became the center of her world. Toddler has 31 one-minute songs and stories, and Big Kid is for pre-teens.
Sara’s children’s albums have received awards such as the National Parenting Publications Award (NAPPA Gold), Children´s Music Web Awards, Parents Choice Gold 2001 and Dr. Toy Best Vacation Product 2004. In addition, the single, “Radiation Man”, from Big Kid was number one for eight months on XM Kids radio.
Hickman received the 2000 Humana Women Helping Women award for her work with charities including the SPCA, Habitat for Humanity and the Race for the Cure. Sara also served as the National Ambassador for Half Price Books, promoting literacy by visiting hospitals and schools throughout the nation, performing and reading to children.
Learn more about Sara’s favorite charities at her non-profit site: http://www.necessaryangels.org
Details of Sara’s Plan
As Sara prepares to take over for Willie Nelson as Official State Musician of Texas in May, she is putting the final touches on her plans to bring creativity back into family life. The project features Two CDs.
Family Time Rocks! contains songs, stories, and ideas designed to help families get started on their own creative journeys. Sara wants to place a free copy in the backpacks of a million Texas school children. She has written and recorded the material and is seeking sponsors to cover the cost of producing the CDs.
Best of Times is a collection of Sara’s songs sung by other Texas musicians. Sara is funding these CDs herself. Sales will raise money and awareness for Big Thought (Dallas) and Theatre Action Project (T.A.P. , Austin), two non-profits that bring creativity into schools, workshops, and after-school programs.
Some of the musicians who have finished recordings for Best of Times include Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians, Marcia Ball, Shawn Colvin, David Garza, Trish Murphy, Brave Combo, Ruthie Foster, LZ Love, Abra Moore and Shelley King. Sara hopes to hear back from Willie Nelson.
“I’m also hoping,” says Sara, “that Asleep at the Wheel, Kelly Willis, Carolyn Wonderland and several others can finish songs for the project.”
A large part of Sara’s efforts, however, will be spent in showing people what creativity — especially the collaborative creativity she hopes to inspire in families — looks like. Sara and her Family Time Rockers! will present a series of interactive live shows focused on the art and music created by her and her band. They will demonstrate “how fun, easy, and rewarding it is to make stuff with your family.”
In addition to her work with T.A.P. and Big Thought, she is forming partnerships with organizations such as the Texas Commission on the Arts (TCA). She is building relationships with partners who can help spread the word, provide art supplies and inspiration, create materials and sponsor activities “to get folks collaborating.”
Family Time Rocks! Has a new website: http://www.FamilyTimeRocks.com
This site will become a clearing house for information about the arts and Sara’s efforts. As she and her band travel throughout Texas interacting and collaborating with families, Sara will post the fruits of their creativity, including songs, art, poetry and stories. The site will provide families with ideas and downloads. They will have access to the Family Time Rocks! CD and learn more about non-profit groups in their own hometowns.
“We will kick off the website presentation this spring with an homage to Willie,” Sara explains.
At the end of Sara´s term, she will report to the legislature about her journey. She plans to have family art projects hanging in the Capital´s rotunda and to sing a family oriented song to the legislature. She intends to ask them to “keep the ball rolling.”
Reprinted from American Chronicle