An Op-ed originally appearing in the Courier Journal

Now, more than ever, we need to be a great American city.

Recent teen violence has opened a dialogue about our community. Today we are searching for ideas about changing our culture. What kind of city do we want to be?

I believe a great American city is safe, healthy, educated and vibrant! How do we get there? Through the arts.

That’s right! Through art we teach empathy, problem-solving, creativity. Through art we can prevent crime. Positive self-expression, meaningful after-school activities and a fully integrated arts and education system is where we begin.

Imagine a day 10 years from now after we have immersed our community in the arts. Walk with me through our city.

Look at our flood wall. Local artists have worked with young people to express themselves on the stark gray concrete façade. The wall is now not only a beautiful monument of artistic expression — it’s a tourist destination. Seeing the flood wall is a must when visiting Louisville, like having a Hot Brown. People near and far come to walk the wall and feel the ’Ville.

Every child was given a musical instrument and regular lessons for free. Now the community gathers on a warm Sunday afternoon for a monthly recital. There are concerts across the city, but we visit Central Park. Families, teachers, friends and neighbors have gathered and are now seated on blankets and chairs. One after another children, ages 5 to 19, take turns performing on stage. Some sing, some play an instrument, some perform Shakespeare.

Behind the scenes, in the sound booth and at the lighting monitor, young people are running things. This is their show.

An outdoor gallery with paintings and sculptures lines a nearby sidewalk. We walk through, inspired, and stop to meet the student artists. They beam at the crowd’s encouragements.

At end of the day, each student artist and young performer is handed a certificate — school extra credit for public performance. They earned it!

The next morning we talk with our school superintendent who proudly shows us drastic increases in standardized scores and graduation rates. The results make believers of many who were skeptical.

Music is a part of math, poetry is a part of science, drama is a part of social studies, visual art is a part of literature, and dance and sports play on equal footing in the gymnasium.

Children want to come to school and learn now. They love to express their talents. Have we become an educated city? You bet!

Metro police have good news for us too. Crime is down. And those who have committed crimes are immersed in an arts program to teach empathy, positive self-image and good decision-making; so we don’t have as many repeat offenders. We’re a safer city!

Even our business sector is bursting with success. During the past 10 years, you have taught students to think creatively and critically. They can write. They can present. They can problem-solve. Now Louisville has a sought-after workforce. Moreover, our brightest stay here. Louisville is the place they live and love and no longer the place they leave and miss.

We did it. We taught a generation the value of creating art.

Something amazing happens when you create art. The art you create changes you; it then goes out of you and into someone else. Art changes all of us. We become more compassionate and understanding. We are united. Why should we wait? Let’s get started!

Together through the arts we create a great American city!