Steve Whitney, School Board Candidate, on the Arts

2016 School Board Candidate questions

  1. Describe your involvement/participation in the arts and cultural activities in


  1. How many times per year do you attend or participate in an arts and cultural event?
  2. What types of events do you attend or participate in?
  3. Are you currently a member of any Juneau arts organization(s)? Which one(s)?

I attend around 10 events a year, including Perseverance Theater, the Juneau Symphony, The Folk Festival, and other live music and cultural events. I am not currently a member of any related organization. My wife and youngest son are the artistic and musical members of our family, but I enjoy attending these events and value their contribution to the community and my family.

  1. What role do the performing, visual and literary arts have in education?

Visual and literary arts are an important part of how we interpret and express our place in the world. I consider them just as important as other areas of our education and don’t believe their value lies in whether they fit into standardized testing, which has unfortunately become a heavy focus in schools in recent years.

When I was young, poetry and literature helped me develop my views of right and wrong and explore the things I care about. The arts are an important part of becoming a well­rounded person, and different people find meaning in different mediums — that’s why it’s important for Juneau students to have the opportunity to explore multiple forms of art.

  1. Arts programs and art instruction in schools frequently are viewed as frills, with budget cuts reflecting that. What are your priorities in setting budgets for school programs and how do you determine them?

Recently I was able to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York, and I was struck by the realization that in past centuries, painters such as Van Gogh and Picasso were at the center of visual arts. Today, some of the most skilled artists are making Harry Potter movies, which often display Picasso­like realities. On the practical side, this has also become a viable way to make a living. I’d like to see more students involved in digital arts, both still and movies. I have seen this happen spontaneously and independently with my own kids and their friends, but I’d love to see how far Juneau’s kids can go with formal guidance and encouragement.

We also need to preserve one-full time music teacher at each elementary school and training in multiple art forms in middle school and high school. Learning that doesn’t fit into a standardized test isn’t a frill. I’m bothered by the fact that in Juneau, AP art classes in high school are reserved for the top performers. I’d like to see students receive the instruction starting in elementary school that would prepare them to step into these classes, rather than the classes being reserved for elite students. This is a priority for me, but one that would require further research and collaboration to lay out. I look forward to working with my fellow board members, the curriculum director, and local artists to make this happen.

  1. Juneau has been selected as one of fifteen sites nationwide to participate in the Any Given Child program. Are you familiar with the program and Juneau’s involvement? What role can the school board play in making this program a success?

As a board member, I would collaborate with other members to ensure we meet the ideals of Any Given Child, even if we weren’t participating. I think the program is wonderful but I’m not clear on how it’s being implemented in our schools. My own children’s education in this area still seems relatively disjointed, with great highlights such as the guest artist at Harborview, then periods of little engagement. I’ve noticed they haven’t worked on some basic skills, such as drawing, since elementary school.

  1. The Juneau School District recently received a Margaret A. Cargill Foundation “Artful Teaching” grant to work in collaboration with the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council and the University of Alaska SE to prepare new and emerging teachers to build the arts education opportunities in Juneau’s schools. What impact do you see this long-term grant having on the Juneau Schools, and what role does the school board play in that?

Professional development of Juneau’s teaching staff is one of the best ways to promote arts in our schools. I am grateful to the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation, JAHC, and UAS for aiding our schools in this endeavor. Dedicated funding also ensures the district and the board actually provide arts for our students. Dedicated staff training is a critical piece of our ability to provide long­term engagement in the arts, and so is a receptive school board that adopts the required curriculum.

  1. Other thoughts or comments?

I played cello as an elementary student, but unfortunately it didn’t take root, and not continuing in music has been a lifelong regret for me. My wife is a piano player and a graphic artist. My youngest son plays the piano under the instruction of Mike Maas and the saxophone in band at Dzantik’i Heeni under the instruction of Karen Ridgon. His middle school music training has been a bright spot in our experience of the arts in the Juneau schools. But we all have something to contribute. One of my favorite places in Juneau is the color cave on Shelter Island, where people create one piece of art to leave, and in return they may take a piece from the cave.