Excellence in Arts Education – a tribute to Tennessee Arts Academy

Dr. Bridges and Mr. Bluestein,

I am writing to sing the praises of Tennessee Arts Academy, and to thank you both for investing so much of yourselves into what is arguably the greatest annual professional development opportunity for arts educators in Tennessee.

During the 2013 Academy, Marc Cherry ended his muse by referencing a letter from Martha Graham to Agnes De Mille.  In the letter, she beautifully describes what is central to the vision of Tennessee Arts Academy – artistic expression:  “… because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique.  If you block it, it will never exist… It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable it is nor how it compares with other expressions…It is your business to keep it yours clearly and… to keep the channel open.”

At Tennessee Arts Academy, educators are trained to guide students toward the joys of self-expression and excellence in a fine arts setting.  In a much larger context, I believe the arts are the most significant tool for inspiring humans to think differently about the world around them.

The Arts:  Heart of the Common Core

I admit this theme for last year’s Academy felt a bit cliché to me on day one.  However, on day six, I believed it wholeheartedly.  The Common Core State Standards emphasize learning by discovery.  Discovery has always been a fundamental precept of arts education.  The arts also reinforce literacy through theater and the multifaceted language of music.  Finally, the arts foster an appreciation for the abstract and enable students to operate in complex environments.  These will all be key elements of successful Common Core classrooms.

Core Workshop Sessions

Thank you for bringing faculty into these small group settings who are subject matter experts at the forefront of current research.  They rigorously challenge teachers with graduate level content.  Consider for a moment the exponential impact this kind of instruction has on the students of Tennessee.

Musings and Performances

Thank you for carefully utilizing TAA resources to bring in an ideal number of iconic performers and musers.  Each year they inspire us.  These unforgettable shared experiences allow us as artists to experience great art together.


George Li’s performance on Sunday was an ideal launching pad for a group of educators:  a 17-year-old world-class piano virtuoso.  Craig Jessup was an inspiring example of an American story tracing humble beginnings through a career of greatness.  Finally, the closing presentation to Frank Bluestein was the perfect way to encapsulate the focus on excellence that permeates Tennessee Arts Academy.  His leadership in Tennessee’s arts education community is an inspiring example, but even more powerful is his stewardship of influence as evidenced by his illustrious list of alumni.


Policy makers and school leaders need to know that Tennessee Arts Academy is arguably the most successful event of its kind regionally if not nationally.  Like anything, maintaining excellence requires great resources.  Consider contributing financially to the Academy and please make legislators aware that it is an incredibly effective use of educational funding.  Research consistently points to teacher quality as the primary contributor to student success.  Few professional development opportunities for teachers make a stronger investment in teacher quality than Tennessee Arts Academy.

Dr. Bridges, Mr. Bluestein and other TAA organizers, thank you for treating educators so respectfully during the week we are with you.  Finally, thank you for your work to ensure that Tennessee Arts Academy is itself a work of art.  You have created a legacy that will impact our region for years to come.



Jeff Myrick

Arts Educator

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