Sunday, September 18, 2016

Missie Fennell: Carrying The Torch: National Arts in Education Week

"We are not trying to save the arts, we are using the arts to save our children."


Happy Sunday, September 18th!
Missie Fennell and the White Balloon Project
September 18 is the 262nd day of the year. There are 104 days remaining until the end of the year. There are 50 days till election day. I hope that all that read this and are eligible to vote will do so. 
There are many platforms in place (pro and con) but one platform that I am compassionate about is arts in education.
I wonder what it was like for you as far as arts in education when you were in high school. Even though I grew up in South Carolina, I had an art class and I was in drama and speech making in high school. I value that. I bring this up in today's blog because this is the conclusion of National Arts in Education week. As this week comes to a close, how many of you even knew that this was National Arts in Education Week?
 Whether you are a student, educator, parent, or principal, you can find a way to celebrate the arts in education during National Arts in Education Week.
I have always been an advocate of arts in education. I really got on board several years ago with Harry Kullijian and Carol Channing when they formed The Dr. Carol Channing-Harry Kullijian For The Arts.

The American Foundation for Arts Education, formerly The Dr. Carol Channing and Harry Kullijian Foundation for The Arts, was founded by Broadway legend Carol Channing and her late husband, Harry Kullijian.

In 2010, the United States Congress and Senate, inspired by the work of Ms. Channing and Mr. Kullijian, endorsed the vital need for an arts education in our schools by unanimously passing HOUSE CONCURRENT RESOLUTION 275 which designates the second week of September as “National Arts In Education Week.”
I did the very first benefit for them on June 5th, 2007. They added me to their advisory board and from that point on a portion of my box office always went to the Foundation.
Sadly, when Harry passed away in December 2011, the Foundation essentially dissolved.

However, Harry and Carol's passion lives on thanks to Missie Fennell, the daughter of Harry Kullijian and step-daughter to Carol Channing.
We sat down earlier this week to cover a little bit of the past, the present, and the future of what is happening with the Foundation.
This blog is the result of that conversation.
Missie tells be right off the bat that she is the adopted daughter of a great guy.
He surrounded their family with beautiful things including music and fine arts.
Carol Channing and Harry Kullijian
Their home was filled with wonderful things, including artifacts from his time in Europe and other locals. Missie was given opportunities to play musical instruments, sing in the choir, do plays, etc.
This was all part of school. She admits that her house was a wonderful environment to grow up in.
As she got older, she appreciated it more. Unfortunately, she says, she doesn't spend a lot of time sitting at the piano anymore. She still sings in the choir at church and on the "praise team",
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It has been a wonderful thing for Missie. The thing that, as Carlos Santana says, 'makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up at the right time." 
It's that stuff that gives you goosebumps and/or makes you cry. It's very impactful. So, when her dad and Carol were talking about what they could do themselves, they talked about having a Foundation to promote arts in education. Missie was on board with them and one of the founding directors. 
That was the genus of the Channing-Kullijian Foundation.
After Harry passed on, the big question was "what do we do now?" Channing decided that she wanted to move on to other things. She was getting older. God bless her! She is now 95. 
The Foundation board decided that they would revitalize themselves as the American Foundation for Arts Education. 
They have scholarships and have given away musical instruments and those kinds of things. 

They really believe (as do I) that when kids have art as part of their curriculum, they do better. hey become more "human" if that is at all possible, if you know what I mean.
They are more engaged and more cooperative with one another. Those that have been in an orchestra or been a play, you know that you have to work with the people who are around you. 
It's not just YOU. It's something bigger than


The American Foundation for Arts Education is something that is bigger than each of us. Missie says it is not just about her and she likes that.That kind of drew her in. Her dad and her step-mom and know it has fallen to her and a few other key folks, David Green and Steve Burnside, who help carry that torch. 
They all love our children. They love our nation. It is very sad these days with some of the interactions that are going on and the divisions we have. 
We certainly aren't unified. The arts can bring people together.
I did not realize that Missie was adopted until our conversation a few days ago. She was an infant when she was brought into Harry Kullijian's world. He and his then wife could not have children. Her stepmom had cervical cancer which precluded them having children. She has an older brother who was also adopted. He was even younger than Missie when he was adopted. He was a week old. Missie was a month old. She always knew that she was special and loved as a kid. They told herself right from the get go. They told her that she was adopted and that they wanted her and the like. 
She says she has been adopted twice, because she has been adopted into God's family as well. 
She got the double blessings as far as adoptions go. 
People often tell Missie she looks just like her dad. She laughs. They do have similar ancestory. 

So, there are just the two of them (siblings). 
Her brother lives in Texas and she doesn't get to see him that often. 
He is a few years older than Missie. He, too is a good musician. He is pretty good on the organ. She is referring to a stage organ which also utilizes his feet. She remembers him playing in his socks so that he could really get a feel for the pedals.
Missie had interest in the theatre so she knew of Carol Channing before she came into her life. She also knew that her dad and Carol had been junior high school sweethearts. He had a picture of her in one of the albums that they had in their home. Every now and then, he would bring her up. Missie was born in San Francisco, Carol's hometown, and Harry was raised there.  There was familiarity with San Francisco and that background. 
When Missie's mom passed away, her parents had been married about sixty years. Harry was struggling being by himself. Some wonderful things began to happen. 
God orchestrated the reunion between Carol and Harry. All of a sudden, Missie found herself with Carol Channing as a stepmom! It was pretty wild and a great ride according to Missie.   
(Editor's note: I was very lucky to know Harry so well and I considered him a close friend and we spoke a lot. His passion was so strong for arts in education.) The Foundation was born near Modesto. 
There is a California state university, Stanislaus. They gave Carol an honorary doctorate degree. That kind of started the ball rolling. 
Harry was thinking, 'What can we do to leverage this? She's a doctor now. What can we do with this to benefit other people?'  
Not just for her, obviously. She didn't need any help. They came up with a Foundation for arts in education. 
The country was suffering and children's arts programs were being cut back so severely. Missie says she is so fortunate that her kids grew up in a school district that was want for very little.  

Every child in the 4th grade got a recorder. They all learned how to read music. They could choose an instrument in the fifth and sixth grade and if they wanted, they could choose something else arts related. 
Carol and Harry wed 70 years after going to Middle School together
A lot of schools out there don't have that. They just don't have the funding or they no longer have the teachers in these areas. Carol and Harry thought they could raise awareness and raise funds to help promote putting arts education back in school. 
They both benefited from it so much. Harry was a musician. He had a band when he was a young man. They would play weddings and bar mitzvas and school dances and things like that. Carol, obviously very gifted at dancing and singing. Some might argue with her singing but she has that unique voice and she really can sing quite well. 

Missie says she wishes she could get some of those low notes. They wanted to pass what they had on. That was the impetus. Now, they had a vehicle to use. 
One thing that Harry dreamed of was a national telethon that would bring awareness of the need for arts in education to a higher level. 

I asked Missie if at the time of Harry's passing if she felt that he had accomplished what he had set out to do as far as the Foundation was concerned. She feels that he felt that it was still in its beginning stages. They had talked several months before his passing, before they knew anything was
wrong, about where the Foundation would be five years in the future (that's now), what the succession would be. What would be the future of the Foundation?
Would there be other spokespersons to be brought on to represent the Foundation. They were in the process of finding someone to take Carol and Harry's place.
Everyone knew they were in their nineties and this wasn't going to last forever. When he passed in December 2011, they got caught flatfooted without a new spokesperson in place to carry on the traditions. As much as he wanted that telethon, the reality was that it would not make sense until they had that national spokesperson in place. They didn't feel that they were capable of pulling that off.
They channeled that into the White Balloon Project. This is something that Missie is hoping that social media can also get involved with on a national, or even internationally, to get the word out for arts in education. This is the direction they are taking it. 
Just so everyone is clear, they changed the name of the Foundation. This was Carol's request. It is the same Foundation. They are still in touch with all of the California State Universities with the endowments for the scholarships that they have in place. 
They still have two out of four of the original board members. It is once again the American
Foundation for Arts in Education.
Since this was Arts in Education week, we would like to remind everyone once again of the work that Carol and Harry did. The White Balloon Project is now launched!
Missie mentioned David Green earlier. He was handpicked by Harry. 
Harlan Boll, Harry, Carol, Richard Skipper
David met with Carol and Harry every morning for eight months. They worked together very closely and David is the president of the Foundation and is the executive director. They are all volunteer at this point. They are a small organization. David does other projects in addition to running the Foundation. His vision for arts in education is fantastic. He has brought some arts in education programs to different schools that he has worked with. Currently, he is working with Palm Springs Unified school district at the Rancho Mirage High School. They have the Musical Theatre University there. 
He has a program that he can duplicate in almost any school as long as there are some professionals in the area who are willing to help out. He actually works with professional actors, actresses, dancers, musicians, and the like.  
They work
Me with Tippi Hedron and David Green
with the students at the school and actually put on productions. It is really quite amazing, the opportunities that these students get. 

There are a couple of things that Harry saw in David that brought him to the table. He is a wonderful human being and he is great working with children and has for many years. He helps them to develop in who they are in their performance ability, whether it be acting, dancing, singing, sets, lighting, etc. He has been very successful at it. Harry thought David would be the person, if they did have a telethon, or other productions that they might be involved with, dealing with celebrities and other entertainers, he knows how all of that works. 
He has been a mentor to many who are now fairly known performers.
He is a really nice guy! Right now, he has several projects running. One of them is that he is the editor of BroadwayWorld in the Palm Springs area.
He has his hands in a lot of different areas, but mostly theatre. With Carol's background in theatre, that was a natural fit. They got along pretty well.
Missie considers her role in the Foundation as mostly a secretary. 
She makes sure that things get done and happen. She makes sure that the forms get filed with the state. 
There are many forms to be filed with the IRS for the endowments and she makes sure that gets done. They have an attorney on the board so that helps, She helps with the website and social media. She is still learning social media so that is sometimes a challenge. She is getting there! They've had help from some younger folks which is the way it is these days so they can make sure they know what they're doing with Twitter and Facebook and other sites. 
There are many these days who live their lives next to their computers and phones. It certainly is the best way to reach a lot of people these days. 

What has having had an arts in education done for Missie?
Having had a great exposure to arts in education as a young girl has given Missie a chance to be something other than herself and something bigger
Harry and Carol with Barbara van Orden
than herself. To have an audience laugh or cry or receive you in a positive way or even in a negative way (Missie says she has also played the villain...along with the hisses and cat calls), the feeling you get from that is pretty special. It is very rewarding to do something for somebody else as somebody else or as yourself.

It has helped her to see the best in people and to know that she is OK the way she is. She can be a little boisterous sometimes, a little quiet, and that's all good because it is all rounding and completing. It helps her to be confident that she is OK.
The sad part is that as far as arts in education is concerned these days. 
It is all so hit or miss. Arts in education in some school districts is wonderful. These children are blooming. Then there are districts ten miles away that are struggling that don't have a "pot to pee to in". They don't have the funding or the resources to have better opportunities. That is very sad. This Foundation is trying to raise awareness that it is important to have. we hear a LOT about STEM (science, technology, engineering, math). 
This is very important but we need STEAM! We need arts in there. We need energy from the arts in those other areas. Even Einstein played the violin for crying out loud. People play the piano, the guitar, they sing, they draw. We all need that creative outlet to think beyond and outside the box. You have to think outside the box sometimes to come up with solutions. In today's world, we definitely need solutions. People are going to have to think outside the box. Arts education helps them to do that. 
The biggest misconception that some have about arts in education is that it is a waste of time. 
Missie and her husband living a well rounded life
They think it is not important because it isn't A+B=C. The other misconception is that these programs are trying to make artists. That is not necessarily true. yes, there are some that are with that and we may find the next great guitar player. That is not, however, any different from that great sports kid who goes on to be professional. These programs are not trying to create professional artists. They are trying to expose kids to the arts to help them become all they can be so that when they do go in to be an engineer or a teacher or a dental assistant. All of these are well rounded persons with a knowledge and a confidence of who they are when they bring their passion of what they
Mark L. Walberg
know into what they are doing. That is really helpful for our society when we have people who, first of all, like what they do, and bringing their best to it. Arts in education really helps to bring out the best. 

Missie would like to see this Foundation grow. They have been in talks with Mark L. Walberg of PBS to be their spokesperson for the White Balloon Project. 
If they get enough buzz going to take this nationwide. Missie would love to see National Arts in Education week be a big deal and that schools are aware of it and that the nation is around it and eventually that arts will be brought back into the core curriculum of the schools. There are many out there who do have that. The Foundation is more than an information sharer at this point. 

Hopefully, Walberg will be able to help them share even more. 
National Arts in Education week is the second week in September, not just this year. This is the first year of the White Balloon Project but this does not end now that National Arts in Education Week
Harry Kullijian and Missie
My hope is that someday Harry's telethon will happen. My bigger hope is that it won't be necessary. In honor of Harry, I'm going to do what I can to help spread the word. The important thing is for people to know that the arts ARE important. It should be part of the process for ALL of our children. They deserve the very best.   
You can get involved by visiting The American Foundation For The Arts website.    
Like The FACEBOOK page.  
Follow on Twitter                                                                                         
In memory of Harry Kullijian

Here's to the future artists to be created! I'm looking forward to the future chapters of this amazing Foundation.
Again, Pay attention to what is going on around you. I urge you to READ, RE-READ, and TAKE NOTES! Some history should not be repeated.

As you can see, we have a LOT to be proud of. We also have a lot to be concerned about. Let's all agree to celebrate that pride in each other! 
Please send your suggestions for future blogs to

Thank you, to all mentioned in this blog for the gifts you have given to the world and continue to give!

With grateful XOXOXs from YOUR pro-active friend,

Check out my site celebrating the legacy of Dolly Gallagher Levi!


Please do what YOU can to be more aware that words and actions DO HURT...but they can also heal and help!   

Here's to an INCREDIBLE tomorrow for ALL...with NO challenges!
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Richard Skipper,

1 comment:

  1. Oh Richard, thank you so much for your support of the American Foundation for Arts Education and the #whiteballoonproject. While I miss working with Dad and Carol I believe in what we started. All our children deserve the best education which includes the arts (STEAM)! Your support is unparalleled! May God richly bless you. Leslee-Missie Fennell