Treehouse Shakers

Treehouse Shakers
Hatched, BAM Fisher, Hillman Studio

Monday, November 8, 2010

How to Measure Need

I feel that I am always deep in thought about the creative culture of our society and how to improve upon it, but also how to improve upon those we reach and serve.

Funders, it seems, primarily want the non-profits in this country to serve the poorest of the poor, the kids who are forgotten, lost, in need. I absolutely agree. These kids need all of us, to make sure they aren't left behind. Treehouse Shakers gives free tickets every year to these low-income communities. We believe in these kids, in helping these communities. The needs in these areas are endless.
Mara with Students from Brooklyn Kindergarten Society Post Show
But, the more I have been contemplating these kids, the more I have been thinking about the kids in the middle class. No one, it seems wants to fund kids in the middle-class. The majority of donors, funders, and corporations, don't want to simply help kids in the middle-class. It doesn't sound desperate, critical, or hopeless enough. The funding is for the very poor and the under served, while the richest can and will, buy the tickets out right, or fund the schools to make sure there are arts. So where does this truly leave the working middle class? The middle class these days, primarily means both parents are working, kids have baby-sitters, extended after school activities, or are going home alone. These kids also need the arts to comfort, nurture, care, and help to create their community. I was one of these kids.

Out East it is clearer to see and feel the class lines. In the West, in Wyoming, we were all heaped together. Small towns have divisions, ours did in many ways, but we didn't have the same kind of divisions. We didn't have private schools to create a bigger divide between the haves and have nots. Sure if you lived closer to the railroad, you may have had a smaller home, but I don't remember thinking of a divide. Could have been the way I was raised, or it could have been the culture of Wyoming. Everything seemed hard growing up. The cold, the work; most people work in mines, construction, pipe fitting, oil rigging, ranching. Wyomingites, by force of nature, are hard workers, they know, for the most part, how to fix their own cars, their roofs, their dinners, their land. But I am getting off on a dirt road. If the arts hadn't been laid out before me, I am not sure where I would have ended up.
Mara and Emily in Southwest Wyoming half-way between the towns where we grew up (2000)
I have often wondered if I wouldn't have met one incredible teacher, if my life would have ended up somewhere else. Of course many people helped me to stand on their shoulders; my parents, my aunt and uncle, my friends, their families. But it was Mr. Stemle who became my cheerleader. He changed everything for me. In Middle School I struggled. I guess everyone struggles in Middle School, but I was a kid in true turmoil. I had been a good kid up to that point. And then I started doing things that changed me. I smoked my first cigarette, I drank too much, and often, I snuck out at night. My mother was beside herself. I was creating a quick life to no where. I often ended up in the principals' office, I skipped school, my mother was called, and I was hurting for attention. Mr. Stemle gave me reading materials in detention, great books, writing assignments. He was always full of inspiration, laughter, support. He encouraged me to enter the young author's contests, and I won. He pulled me aside when I was in another class, and encouraged me to try out for the High School Speech Team, led by another amazing teacher, Mr. Levitt. The way he kindly pushed me along, helping me as a writer, believed in me, well, his encouragement, that is what changed me. He pushed me into the arms of writing. These arms led to a body that included acting, speech, and eventually directing, playwriting, and storytelling. That first big writing embrace, was the embrace that shaped me forever.

The arts speak beyond our differences. They are for all of us, they keep us alive, connect us, encourage free thinking, and help us to become imaginators. If we leave the middle class behind, who will be the advocates for these kids; the ones whose parents are gone to work, who come back from school to an empty home, who struggle for attention? So should non-profits in the arts also be funded to serve those in the middle class? My vote is a resounding YES! The arts shouldn't have a class divider.


  1. Amazing Tribute to an amazing man, I am sure there are many more former students that would agree as well! I know I do!

    I would consider myself in the middle class and we often struggle to provide the extra's like ballet, piano, art lessons. It only gets harder as the kids get older as the pricing goes up. I often feel like we are equally as tight for the extra things as the poor, especially in this economy.

  2. Mara

    I am truly touched that you are so open, and give credit to those who helped you along, and still do. Never forget, we all have that "voice" inside our souls that direct us. This voice can be called many things, but I say a Guardian Angel.


  3. Oh Mara, I have grown up with you, went to school with you from middle school to graduation. Mr. Stemele was and is an amazing man and teacher. We feel very lucky that he and his wife Theresa are in our small town of Evanston and in our teaching district, but most of all that I have three children going through this amazing school district and understand and feel your incredible story and agree with it's every word. Thank you for touching on all of these important points and let us hope for brighter futures in our arts and music programs. I too went to college with the inspirations of becoming an art teacher for children. In my second year of my teaching degree and an art degree already there I quit because I felt that in my Colorado area that I lived in and loved they too had been hit by budget cuts for the arts in schools. Not that I am proud that I quit but felt I would have had a very hard road to being able to make a living. I can say that I have taught my own children everything I know and a few private lessons throughout the years but always having a deep down regret that I didn't push through. Thank you for never giving up and pushing through with all of your talent and awesome perseverance.

    Stacey (Fry) Jaimez