In defense of Baltimore School for the Arts [Letter]

May 25, 2014

Baltimore School for the Arts is one of Baltimore's greatest treasures. I know I am playing the long odds in working toward a career in acting. I hear the jokes correlating the arts and the McDonald's drive-through. I recognized in middle school that, without connections in the business, a strong education in the field is my best shot. I am fortunate to live in this city with its school uniquely devoted to preparing aspiring artists for a professional environment.

Baltimore School for the Arts, where I am finishing my sophomore year, has recently fallen under scrutiny ("Who is responsible for Jabril?" May 19). Concerned Baltimore residents look at my school, see the care and commitment of those involved, and inevitably worry about who is going to benefit from the school's programs. Jealous guardianship of this flowering center for learning is understandable. This institution sets Baltimore apart. However, what appears to be a solid establishment, routinely churning out confident graduates, relies on the delicate balances of a cooperative community. I worry well-meaning adults, who purely want this experience for as many aspiring artists as possible, will inadvertently tip the carefully constructed culture and spill out what makes Baltimore School for the Arts such a valuable environment.

As a pre-professional program, Baltimore School for the Arts demands a level of professionalism in the students. They are held to very high standards, especially in the arts classes, where a student who consistently fulfills class expectation will receive a C grade. Arts classes require high-level work and a high degree of talent. In order to maintain the level of the classes and suitably prepare students for their life of work, in accordance with Baltimore School for the Arts' mission, the school must be selective in its admission process. The school ignores transcripts and only uses the auditions for admissions. Sometimes the school must even look at applicants from outside the city limits. The school's acceptance of non-residents is often criticized, but it is necessary to fill classes with students who can perform at the essential level. While the school tries to limit the number of non-residents it admits, it is not possible to eliminate them all together.

The competition in Baltimore School for the Arts' application and the high standards of the classes may seem cruel and harsh for a high school, but they only represent a part of the exponentially increasing difficulties of the students' chosen paths.

Ultimately, Baltimore School for the Arts is a school that prepares students for the Darwinistic world of arts. To fulfill this mission, the school must share the stark realism of that world. Arts schools are often idealized using the same stereotypical storyline of "poor, tough-on-luck kid goes to school, is awoken by Yoda-like mentor, releases pain through art, and becomes the next big star." This storyline is a possible outcome. Under the rough exterior, Baltimore School for the Arts is a school that gives students the respect of great expectations and the space to explore their artistic selves. But this story is not a guarantee. Every student that came through Baltimore School for the Arts and found success came from a class with hundreds of other students that did not hit it big. Baltimore School for the Arts has wealth to offer students if they are willing to seize the opportunity, but the school expects students meet it halfway. Baltimore School for the Arts has never pretended its goal is to save every kid in Baltimore. It is not a place of healing but a place of growth. While I find comfort in the rigorous challenge and personal expression that is possible at Baltimore School for the Arts, not everyone feels ready or safe enough to explore what Baltimore School for the Arts has to offer. While art schools as guardian angels make great stories, in reality, arts schools are simply schools where students learn to be artists.

Ava Geenen, Baltimore

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