Why Art Matters for Kids According to Metro Detroit Professionals

Four successful local professionals who don't have 'art jobs' share why art is relevant in their careers – and why art matters for kids.

Art is everywhere. It’s in the technology we use, the bedtime stories we read and the music we listen to on the way to school. It inspires us, challenges us and gives us a new lens for viewing our world. From this viewpoint, it’s easy to see why art matters for kids.

And yet such programs are often first on the budget chopping block and, as of 2012, at least 108,000 Michigan students had no arts education at all.

At a time when so much attention is focused on exposing kids to curricula in the STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math – rapidly growing fields that offer high-paying, in-demand jobs – it can be easy to forget the power of creativity. Does art education still matter for kids today?

The research shows it absolutely does, regardless of whether kids pursue a career in it. Studies have found that children exposed to art are more proficient at core subjects, have fewer disciplinary problems and even have better graduation rates.

Art for art’s sake, it turns out, could help our children thrive in whatever passions they choose to pursue.

And art’s been increasingly added to that STEM acronym, making it STEAM to emphasize the importance of incorporating art. The fields intersect frequently – an idea Steve Jobs discussed in 2011 when introducing the iPad 2.

“It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough – it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing,” he said.

Perhaps the best people to describe why art matters for kids today are those you might assume wouldn’t say it does. Metro Parent talked to four metro Detroiters in careers not typically associated with art and asked them how it’s influenced their lives – and why they believe it matters for today’s kids.

Here’s what they had to say.

Dr. Tisa Johnson-Hooper, Pediatrician

Dr. Tisa Johnson-Hooper, Pediatrician

As medical director of the Center for Autism and Developmental Disabilities at the Henry Ford Health System, Johnson-Hooper works with children who have special needs – an interest she’s held dear since she was a child.

“Kids have always been incredibly inspirational to me,” she says. She lives in Farmington Hills with her husband and three children.

What was your arts education in school?

In addition to playing piano, flute and cello, Johnson-Hooper was in the marching band and played in musicals. “Drawing is my weakness,” she admits. “I always enjoyed it; I just didn’t have an aptitude for it.”

How did your art education affect you?

“It was definitely impactful. I’ve always found art and music to be incredibly calming and centering, even if you’re playing an upbeat tempo. From my earliest memory, it has always been tied into emotion.”

How has art helped you in your career?

“There is a growing body of literature that really does demonstrate the benefit of music exposure in education and kind of the math side of the brain,” Johnson-Hooper says. “Math and science have always been an area of strength of mine.”

She also learned work ethic and resilience from practicing an instrument – making another great case for why art matters for kids.

What impact does art have on your life today?

“Music has been fundamental in my family life. All three of my children are very musically inclined,” she says of her kids, ages 18, 17 and 9, who often volunteer to play music at nursing homes and rehab facilities. “It’s amazing for me as a parent.”

Why do you think it’s important for kids now?

“I would love to see music education at an earlier age. I think for kids it really does provide them a venue to express themselves. As a developmental pediatrician, I see more and more kids with ADHD and certainly one thing I’ve noticed is music definitely helps with attention profoundly.”

– Photo by Lauren Jeziorski • Art by Jessica Krcmarik

Brian Langley, Teacher

Brian Langley, Teacher

A physics teacher at Novi High School, Langley earned the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching in 2016.

“I chose the teaching profession mainly to be a difference maker in the lives of students,” says this married father of three school-age children. And while he teaches math, he makes a compelling case for why art matters for kids.

What was your arts education in school and how did it affect you?

“I was lucky to have parents who encouraged art. I remember piano lessons and community ed art classes. In high school, I chose elective classes in drawing and painting. I watched in admiration of my sister, who performed in a school musical.”

How has art helped you in your career?

“Art plays a prominent role in my classroom. I use music often to keep things light and upbeat. I have a theme song I play as I hand out quizzes, another theme song for exams and a happy-go-lucky song I like to play as kids walk into class on Thursdays.

“I have class logos that include our team name and class motto. The logos are designed with student input and help build enthusiasm for learning. I am currently working on a collaboration with our art department to create artistic celebrations of unsung heroes in science that my students find through research projects.”

What impact does art have on your life today?

“Art can make you smile, laugh, dance, sing and cry. It can do so across cultures and over centuries. Art is something to cherish.”

Why do you think it’s important for kids now?

“Art enriches our lives. It spurs creativity. It is important that kids are provided the opportunity to experience that enrichment. Through art, kids can find inspiration and inspire others.”

– Photo by Lauren Jeziorski • Art by Michelle Ouellette

Hyaat Chaudhary, Business executive

Hyaat Chaudhary, Business Executive

After working several years in private equity, this Birmingham dad struck out on his own, running a large digital media company and a global advertising agency.

Former co-CEO at Anchor Worldwide, a creative agency based in New York. Chaudhary is married, has three kids and plays recreational hockey. “I love challenges,” he adds, “and my goal is to work up to an Ironman.”

What was your arts education in school?

“I’m basically as far as you can get from an ‘arts person,'” he says, though he did take art classes from kindergarten into college. “I can’t draw to save my life, and the only thing I can play (poorly) is ‘Ol’ Susana’ on a harmonica – and that took me forever to learn!”

So, then, how has art helped you in your career?

“For people like me, my creative side takes the lead, but my strategic/analytical side keeps me in check. When I started out in venture capital, my oldest brother gave me the most valuable advice I ever got: ‘People are paying you a lot of money for your ideas, creativity and feedback. Don’t be shy to speak your mind.'”

What impact does art have on your life today?

As far as creativity, he says, “A massive impact. No business will be successful without creative innovators.”

Why does art matter to you?

“Steve Jobs and the iPhone, Elon Musk and Tesla – no modern innovations are possible without ‘art.’ Art skills to me are the epicenter of creativity, which is the beginning of innovation.”

Why do you think it’s important for kids now?

“I’m a huge believer in developing art skills young, but more built around imagination. We are increasingly growing up in a world of screens and schedules. I think it’s absolutely critical to let kids be kids and make their own games, find their own activities and not overschedule or overpressure early on.”

– Photo by Lauren Jeziorski • Art by Natalie Marion

Eve Aronoff Fernandez, Chef

Eve Aronoff Fernandez, Chef

As owner of Cuban-inspired Frita Batidos in Ann Arbor and, in 2019, Detroit – where the specialities are fritas (burgers) and baditos (milkshakes) – Aronoff spends most of her time gobbling up the restaurant life.

“I always loved to cook and eat growing up, and when I went away to college in Boston I got a job cooking for spending money,” she says. “I fell in love with it right away and knew I wanted to open a restaurant. I was working towards it from that point on.”

What was your arts education in school?

“I loved doing art projects with my mom when I was growing up and doing art in school and at camp when I was away from home. I was in band, though not very talented in that area. (I) still enjoyed it.”

What impact does art have on your life today?

You’ll find the answer in her little resturant’s simple, laid-back vibe, complete with communal picnic table-style seating. “I basically see everything– whether it is a cocktail, savory menu item, music, design, philosophy – as a creative/artistic venture,” she says.

Why does art matter to you?

“Art is very important to me, and I think you can be artistic and creative in any area of life. It is one of the areas that brings me the most fulfillment in life.”

Why do you think art is important for kids now?

“I think art is so important for kids … to pay attention to the beauty around you, to get engaged in creating things, to express yourself creatively. All of those things lead to enjoyment of life and developing as a person in important ways – and are especially meaningful now as kids are surrounded by phones/video games, which can be so consuming and distracting.”

– Photo by Cybelle Codish • Art by Stephen William Schudlich

This post was originally published in 2017. It is lightly updated regularly, although job titles, ages and cities may be specific to the original year.


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