By Ana Sirabionian
How can we get Armenian kids to gain an interest and even work towards enriching the Armenian arts? And, who will be the next generation of Armenian artists and playwrights working out of the diaspora (who can read, write, and speak Armenian)? Students with an interest in the arts, who have also had a formal education in the Armenian language from an Armenian school, would probably be the best candidates…
I attended an Armenian school for 14 years (pre-K-12th) and have taught at two different Armenian schools in the past seven years. Through my experiences as both student and teacher, I can safely say that private Armenian school students tend to have little to no interest in pursuing the arts. It’s not that the talent is lacking. As an English teacher I’ve come across great writers, and as a Drama teacher I’ve come across great actors. I’ve also come across kids who aren’t very good at either, but love math and want to major in engineering. But when asking the writers/actors of the class what line of work they’re interested in, the answer is usually something like, “LAW”. That’s a fine career choice, but if all the Armenian kids who show artistic/creative potential go into unrelated fields, where does the future of our culture lie?
I also taught at a public school for a year. There, the “theater kids” had talent and spunk. They could sing, dance, and act and they were proud of it and they wanted to actually build on their talents and pursue a career in the arts. What a crazy thought! Was there no one in their household to advise them to study law or medicine instead?
Many Armenian schools offer Drama classes or clubs as well. Our departments may not be as well funded or equipped, but most students, at one point or another, are given the opportunity to be involved in a small production. From my experiences, these productions are usually fun while they last, parents and other guests take their snapshots, but the gratification and inspiration gained from them is short-lived, and then it’s off to more important things. It’s just never taken too seriously.
The truth is we are a small community in a large diaspora, and we are striving to keep our identity and respect as a people. Thus, we cultivate our kids to become successful adults who hold important positions. There’s nothing wrong with that. We need Armenian doctors, lawyers, politicians, CEO’s, in order to gain respect for ourselves in American society. However, what will happen to the arts if we make doctors and lawyers of all the talent our youth has to offer? I grew up with an understanding that a culture is defined mainly by its art: theater, dance, music, literature…Without these, a culture becomes indistinguishable. A united set of attitudes and values is also essential in defining a culture. Perhaps that’s the problem; our values are a bit skewed. We know how important art is, but in a land of so much other opportunity, we’re afraid to sacrifice our kids to art.