To the editor:
I would like to respond to the Portsmouth Times’ coverage of the Town Council’s deliberations over the proposed arts center for Portsmouth. While the article certainly presented opinions on both sides of the issue, I believe it perpetuated the widespread misconception that the people in favor of an arts center have no interest in the continued existence of the Aquidneck Island Christian Academy (AICA). In reality, the committee responsible for creating a business proposal for an arts center simply did not take on the additional task of negotiating with the AICA. The Town Council has now created a committee to facilitate those negotiations.
Those of us who would like to see both the AICA and the arts center in Portsmouth were relieved that the council voted to allow the AICA six months to prepare for the next discussion of the use of the East Main Road location. As the vote was about to be taken, one audience member said, “Think of the children.”
To me her words had a much broader relevance than I think she intended. Clearly the children attending the Christian Academy deserve the chance to have the exceptional education that produced such thoughtful and articulate speakers as Amy Addo and Sam Browne. However, the children of all our schools — the Christian Academy, Pennfield, St. Philomena, and the public school system — deserve a place where they can take art and music classes of the sort that may not be available in their schools, and where they can work with adults who care about the arts.
In times of financial difficulty, money for the arts is one of the first things to be reduced in the school budget, and the next thing to go is after-school athletics. Given the obvious benefits of exercise and teamwork, we can always find people willing to remind us of the importance of sports in our children’s lives. How often, though, do we hear anyone point out that art, music, drama and dance are every bit as vital to some people as sports are? There are many fine dance schools in Portsmouth, but people who want to learn drawing, pottery, or the graphic arts must travel much further to find classes.
At the April 8 Town Council meeting, several speakers asserted that they had moved to Portsmouth because the Christian Academy offered their children an exception al education. I am glad they are here but would respectfully submit that others — even those without children — might also consider moving to Portsmouth for its vibrant arts community.
There are many ways we might be able to keep the Christian Academy in Portsmouth and create an arts center as well, but finding those solutions will require thoughtful consideration of everyone’s needs. If the people of Portsmouth allow this discussion to deteriorate into a competition between the Christian Academy and the arts center, a hostile debate about who does or doesn’t deserve our support or respect, then we will all be the poorer for it.