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Five Questions: Rob Baird

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A longtime participant in arts organizations such as Missouri Citizens for the Arts, Rob Baird, chairman of the board and CEO of Conco Cos., was one of six Missouri representatives to attend the National Endowment for the Arts Education Leaders Institute last month in Chicago. Baird is encouraging educators to treat the arts as a core subject.

Q: How were you selected to represent Missouri at the NEA Education Leaders Institute?
A: It was a team that the Missouri Arts Council and Julie Hale, one of its key staff members, put together. Every year for the last several years, a state can put together a team and apply to be involved, and then (NEA) will bring five or six teams together. I imagine that, over the fullness of time, all of the states would be included, but at any one time, it’s kind of a competitive thing. (MAC) wanted a group that was in a position to influence arts’ policy. During the last 20 years or so, I have been very active in various arts organizations around the state, and as one of the members for this team, they wanted a business leader who was interested in the arts and had that experience.

Q: What is the biggest policy issue for arts education?
A: We are trying to get a policy and an environment in place in which the arts are treated not as an add-on, but as a basic course that enhances and multiplies the development of a child.

Q: What did you take away from the conference?
A: They brought in experts that were very much up to date on the latest cognitive research on development and the role that the arts can play in that, especially with the very young. Exposure to the arts has been shown to complement teaching in other subjects. What’s important is that the arts shouldn’t be treated as something that is off to the side. When resources are scarce, it is all the more important to realize how powerful exposure to the arts can be to the development of a child. Arts are not for the privileged only. It’s so important to be able to reach children that may be impacted by economic conditions.

Q: How will your team now advocate for treating arts education as a core curriculum?
A: The team that went to this conference will be meeting again June 15 to come up with a specific strategy. Each team developed and then presented to the others an approach that it would take when it returned home – mainly it’s a plan to engage as many organizations as possible about their agendas with regard to the arts … and share with them that knowledge.

Q: Why are the arts so important to you?
A:  Personally, I’m not very artistic. But I’ve always been interested in early childhood education. I’ve continually been impressed by the role that arts can play with children in Springfield and southwest Missouri. When arts programs like those led by the Creamery Arts Center and the Springfield Regional Arts Council are put into play they seem to have a dramatic impact on the lives of the children they touch. It is very much a two-plus-two-equals five situation when it comes to children and exposure to the arts.
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