BOSTON — As a child, I rode a city bus once a week to the far side of Des Moines, Iowa, to take classes at a children's theater at Drake University. Most of the training was based on improvisation. I had a wondrous time: It was a "workout" for my imagination given by a teacher who was both demanding and loving.
During the Depression, my mother had traveled the Midwest for a time directing amateur theater productions. The leading man at one stop became her husband and my father. Even though our family didn't have a lot of disposable income, somehow each of the four children received acting lessons and musical training.
Those childhood experiences haven't left me with any marketable artistic skills. But I did learn one thing: Watching isn't the same thing as doing. Attending a play or concert can be great, but performing, however feebly, is fulfilling in its own unique way.
Apparently, millions of us know this. A recent survey by the National Endowment for the Arts shows that almost two-thirds of adult Americans find time to personally perform or create works of art: sing, dance, paint, write poems, sculpt, or whatever. Millions more take classes to learn new skills or sharpen old ones. Some 20 million perform in public in choirs or choruses.
What's a big factor in whether adults participate in the arts? You guessed it. If you experienced the arts as a child, you are likely to keep it up.
Which reminds me: My brother borrowed my clarinet. I've got to get it back and see if I can still get a decent squeak out of that thing.
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