The directive was simple: "Pursue the arts!"
My high school English teacher liked one of my essays, using a mark of punctuation best kept in a sock drawer and retrieved only for special occasions in the note he had written in red pen next to my grade.
If only I knew what he meant. I had to ask him to explain his message. The arts. Is that a career choice? Could you be more specific? How much does it pay?
Perhaps that's why I became a journalist.
First, though, I spent some time studying fiction at the University of New Hampshire, where I perfected the craft of not writing. My best story one semester was a revision and expansion of a previous story I had written. My professor said that, while it was good, he could hardly give me an "A" since I had recycled it. Perhaps that's where I learned humility.
Not long after that, Raymond Carver won an O. Henry award for "A Small, Good Thing," a short story that was a revision and expansion of one of his previous works. It later became one of the highlights of Robert Altman's "Short Cuts," a film that adapted several of Carver's stories for the screen (with singer-songwriter Lyle Lovett as the creepy baker.)
Perhaps that's where I learned that the teacher is not always right - and that laziness could be rewarded given the chance to flourish. Actually what I learned was rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.
While I've never earned a living pursuing the arts, it's always informed what I do. So I immediately appreciated the difference when I first learned about STEM versus STEAM education. The former is "science, technology, engineering and math," the magic combination of disciplines that has been touted as a sure-fire road to academic and career success.
The latter adds "arts" to the equation - the piece of the puzzle that too often gets thrown in the sock drawer with that exclamation point and neglected, deemed unworthy to compete with technical expertise.
The New Hampshire Business Committee for the Arts, under the guidance of Executive Director Joan Goshgarian, has been working for the past 30 years to make sure the arts gets the attention it deserves by forging relationships between businesses and arts organizations.
It champions the Currier Museum of Art and other galleries, venues such as the Palace Theatre, the Capitol Center for the Arts and the Lebanon Opera House; performance groups such as the NH Theatre Factory and the Manchester Community Music School, and visual arts and artisan entities such as Studio 550 in Manchester and the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen.
The nonprofit celebrated its 2014 Business in the Arts Awards on Monday at the Center of New Hampshire/Radisson Hotel Manchester, honoring business leaders for their support of time, money and resources to local arts groups. The 325 people in attendance also enjoyed some great reminders of what that support nurtures through performances by musicians, a theater troupe and a group of fiction writers. (We reported the winners in print and at unionleader.com on Tuesday; you also can find them at nhbca.com.)
Among its other programs, the Business Committee for the Arts helps connect professionals with artists and nonprofits that need help. Lawyers for the Arts, for example, directs New Hampshire artists and arts organizations with arts-related legal issues to the clinic at the University of New Hampshire School of Law in Concord.
"I can do this work because we have a membership base," Goshgarian said Friday. "If we don't have members, we don't have support to do it. The most important thing we do is make sure we keep businesses engaged in the message."
The company's long list of board members includes representatives from banks, law firms, health companies, financial advisers, education, aerospace, media and manufacturing.
"My board is composed of the CEOs of New Hampshire's leading companies," Goshgarian said. "They really serve as advocates for our mission of being involved and engaged in the arts, and that the arts help promote economic and community development. So there are really two sides to that - the human aspect of the arts and the economic and community-building aspect of that."
When Bellwether Credit Union CEO Michael L'Ecuyer accepted his Leadership Award on Monday, he talked about how much dance has meant to his 18-year-old daughter, Kristine, who has been studying ballet, jazz, hip-hop and modern dance at Bedford Dance Center since she was 3 years old. She chose to write about the impact of dance on her life for a college entrance essay.
L'Ecuyer said he had attended all Kristine's recitals, but he hadn't realized how much dance meant to her. "When I read that essay, I said, 'Whoa, this is more than just what she does four nights a week and a bunch of weekends a year,'" he said when we caught up with him Friday.
L'Ecuyer said he grew up in a jock household as the "least jockiest of all the jocks." He alluded to comments often made by Peter Ramsey, president and CEO of the Palace, about how the theater's youth programs reach kids who might not have an affinity for sports.
"We all talk about sports often. We talk about the arts a little less often. At least it seems that way," said L'Ecuyer, who previously served as chairman of the Palace Theatre Board of Trustees. "The people at the event the other night - we're part of a group of people who in this state make sure the arts and the cultural community has its place."
Kristine L'Ecuyer might not be pursuing the arts as a career - she plans to major in marketing and minor in Spanish, L'Ecuyer says - but it's safe to say she has an appreciation for the value of that "A" in STEAM.
Mike Cote is business editor at the New Hampshire Union Leader. Email him at 668-4321 ext. 324 or firstname.lastname@example.org.